RIVERSIDE, Calif. -- With the clock spiraling down to its harrowing conclusion and the noise inside the gym ascending, Josh Reisman did exactly what he was supposed to do. He hesitated.
Not out of fear or to question the final moments of the game, but as a tool to ensure that his shot would be the last. And with a quick, subtle hesitation Reisman stopped with a squeak of his shoe, rose up, and shot a straight away 3 that splashed through the net with 3.2 seconds remaining to give Azusa Pacific a 74-71 win over California Baptist.
His hesitation left precious little time for the Lancers to get any kind of quality shot because they had to inbound from the backcourt and when the ball was deflected away at the timeline, the Cougars had earned their fifth consecutive victory.
“Coach told me to make sure to hesitate to make sure they didn’t have enough time to get the last shot,” said Reisman, who finished with 13 points in 26 minutes. “I looked for an opening to penetrate but I didn’t see any. I was feeling the jump shot and hit it.”
The play had been run out of a timeout that head coach Bill Odell had called for with 13.2 seconds left. Originally, a down screen would have ideally created a 2-man game with Scott Zea, but the Lancers thwarted the strategy and additionally backed off Reisman just enough for him to get a clean look.
“I didn’t want Josh to go early and I wanted them to get back if we made it,” said Odell, no doubt reminding his team of the defensive lapse against Vanguard a few weeks back. “When they switched the down screen it was Josh making the play for us.”
The final shot was a culmination of a tightly played game which California Baptist has been involved with all season long. This season the Lancers have lost 9 games by 3 points or less. Conversely, Azusa Pacific (23-3, 14-2) has had more success in tight game scenarios.
A series of lost possessions by California Baptist (10-13, 5-10) down the stretch helped to buoy the Cougars’ lead momentarily. Trailing 63-62 with 4:34 remaining, the Lancers’ Peter Rajniak, who scored a game-high 27 points, had a 3-pointer partially blocked which resulted in a shot clock violation.
After the 2 teams exchanged made baskets, Azusa Pacific used a timeout and got a huge score from Zea who got 2 of his 22 points on a reverse lay-up. “I came out (off the block) and Demario got me the ball,” said Zea, who also finished with 5 rebounds. “The baseline was wide open and Rajniak was coming over with his hand up and the only way I could finish was with the reverse.”
The basket gave the Cougars a 67-64 lead and proceeded a pair of offensive foul calls against the Lancers which stymied their offensive rhythm. But they continued to claw back and eventually tied the game on a pair of Junior Denson free throws with 1:05 to go at 69-69.
Demario Butler responded by driving to his right and lobbing a pass into Tristan King under the basket. King went up strong and drew a foul. He calmly sank both free throws to put the Cougars back in front.
Andrew Bruckner followed with a jumper for the Lancers and the game was tied at 71-71 setting up the final shot.
The Cougars prevailed after falling behind in the first half. Rajniak gave them all sorts of headaches early with his long range shooting as he gave California Baptist a solid first half lead. Zea was assigned Rajniak defensively and utilized his length to slow down the sharpshooter.
But Azusa Pacific did not trail by a wide margin for long as Kasey Myers came off the bench to spark the Cougars. He hit a lay-up with his left hand while shielding a defender with his right shoulder to cut the Lancer lead to 26-17.
“We played poorly in the first half but we felt it was still a close game,” said Reisman. “Even though things weren’t going our way we tried to hand on and regroup.”
The Cougars resolve was tested after they lost an important player early. Butler picked up his second foul less than 2 minutes into the game and was forced to sit at the end of the bench during the Lancers first half festivities. He never got into a good rhythm and finished with 4 points.
But Azusa Pacific continued to battle and their hard work was rewarded when Zea hit a triple from the left wing with 2 seconds before the first half horn to bring the Cougars within 35-34. Denson nearly answered with a heave from half court but the ball rattled out keeping the Cougars narrow margin of deficit intact.
In the end, while the hesitation proved to be a valuable commodity at closing time the Cougars still need to open with more energy.
“We’ve got to be more motivated,” said Odell. “We came out real flat and we were fortunate to get the win.”
Azusa Pacific returns home to face a stout Point Loma Nazarene team this Thursday at the Felix Event Center. The game is scheduled to tip-off at 7:30 p.m.