EL CAJON, Calif. – With the flickering hopes of a first-ever Golden State Athletic Conference title in school history squarely resting on his shoulders, Rowan Gray calmly sank 2 free throws with 1 second left to lift the NAIA’s No. 16-ranked San Diego Christian to a 69-68 upset of No. 3 Azusa Pacific at the Ryan Athletic Center Saturday evening.
The victory seemed inconceivable just 6 seconds before when it appeared Azusa Pacific had wrapped up its fourth straight GSAC title and its 13th in the past 14 years. Tristan King collected Lawrence Walker’s errant attempt at a go-ahead leaning leaper in the key with 10 seconds left in the game. With a 1-point lead and the ball in their hand, the Cougars thought they also had the conference crown and an automatic bid to the NAIA Championship Tournament safely tucked away. However, as guard Josh Reisman attempted to run the clock out in the Cougar frontcourt, he inadvertently stepped on the sideline, turning the ball back over to San Diego Christian with 6.2 seconds remaining.
With a surprising second chance, Walker this time made good, driving the lane before he dished off to a cutting Gray. As the final horn sounded, Gray was hacked across the wrist by Brice Prather. The officials put 1 second back on the clock and Gray, who finished with a game-high 29 points, connected on his 14th and 15th points from the line to give San Diego Christian its first-ever season-sweep of Azusa Pacific.
The victory pulls the Hawks to within 1 game of GSAC frontrunner Azusa Pacific with 2 games left in the regular season. The Cougars host Fresno Pacific Tuesday (Feb. 21) and then visit Vanguard (Feb. 27), a team that already beat the Cougars in Azusa earlier this year, to close out the regular season. Meanwhile, San Diego Christian visits Fresno Pacific and hosts The Master’s.
Demario Butler’s 12-foot jumper with 64 seconds left tied the game at 67-67. Out of a Hawk timeout on the ensuing possession, Reisman picked Drew Sanchez at mid-court and was fouled as Sanchez fell to the floor. Reisman converted the front end of 2 free throws with 37 seconds left to put the Cougars up 68-67. The Hawks came back down and ran as much time off the clock as they could before Walker drove the gut hoping to win the game However, terrific Cougar defense frustrated Walker on his attempt and King snagged the ball as it sailed away. King heaved the ball up court to an open Reisman, who danced around Hawk chasers until he backed onto the sideline, setting up Gray’s heroics.
The Cougars entered the contest with a 2-game lead over second-place San Diego Christian with 3 games left in the regular season. A Cougar victory clinched the title for Azusa Pacific, however, a San Diego Christian win kept the Hawks in the hunt for the school’s first conference title in any sport.
The game lived up to its billing with 8 lead changes and 11 ties.
Azusa Pacific led by as much as 9 points on 2 different occasions in the first half before San Diego Christian re-discovered Gray, who the Hawks seemingly lost in the first 10 minutes of the game. However, once found, Gray spurred a 15-3 Hawk run by scoring 11 of his 13 first-half points over the final 9 minutes, propelling the Hawks to a 38-36 halftime lead. The Hawks repeatedly went to Gray on the block, and he responded by drawing fouls that not only put him on the line, where he converted 9-of-11, but it also put the Cougars in foul trouble.
In the second half, Azusa Pacific picked up its defensive intensity and built a 6-point cushion at 59-53 following a King lay-up with just under 8 minutes left in the game. San Diego Christian, though, responded with a 10-0 run, making 6 straight free throws in the process to reassume the lead at 63-59 following a Gray bucket. From there the 2 nationally-ranked squads battled back and forth over the final 5 minutes, setting up a improbable yet fortuitous win for San Diego Christian.
Butler led Azusa Pacific with team highs of 14 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, while Reisman added 11 points.
With the loss, Azusa Pacific’s first in 12 games on the road this season, the Cougars fall to 23-5 overall, 14-4 in the GSAC. San Diego Christian improves to 19-7 overall