Trips to Fresno Pacific have never been easy ones for The Master’s College men’s basketball team. Contests at the GSAC’s northernmost outpost have been tainted by controversy at one time or another over the years.
That’s why the 13th-ranked Mustangs ventured to the Central Valley with some trepidation Tuesday afternoon. Hours later, however, they traveled back home with unbounded confidence following a 70-62 victory over the Sunbirds.
The huge road win was the squad’s fourth in their last five outings and kept them tied for first place in the GSAC (8-3, 16-6 overall) with No. 16 Concordia and No. 22 Westmont.
It didn’t come easy especially when the Mustangs blew almost all of a 15-point lead in the final 12 minutes. Most of that margin was built on the shooting of Leif Karlberg. The junior sharpshooter, who scored 15 of his team-high 18 points in the second half, buried four three-pointers in a 6:17 span, taking the Mustangs from a six-point (36-30) halftime lead to a 54-39 advantage on a Chris Patureau layup with 12:32 left to play.
The Mustangs enjoyed that advantage for well over a minute before the hosts started to chip away at the deficit. Keeping the Mustangs off the scoreboard for over five minutes, the Sunbirds made a game of it with a 7-0 spurt, closing to 54-46 on a Kenny Bradford free throw at the 8:49 mark.
A Jon Hogan layup with 7:16 remaining snapped the club out of its icy stretch and when Lance Reeves drained a three-ball at the 4:28 mark, the Mustangs regained a double-digit (63-52) lead. Just as quickly, though, the Mustangs’ shooting went back in the tank and the Sunbirds made one final surge.
Down by that 11-point margin, the Sunbirds kept the Mustangs scoreless for nearly four minutes while tallying eight consecutive points, carving the deficit to 63-60 on an Antonio Credit three-point play with 37 seconds left in the game.
Forced to foul, the Sunbirds picked on freshman Jon Hogan, but the youngster went to the line and calmly sank both free throws. That was followed by a pair of free tosses from both Karlberg and Paul Brown that put the game away. Those charity tosses were part of a 9-12 showing from the line in the second half, overshadowing a poor 36% performance from the field over the final 20 minutes.
That wasn’t the case in the first half when the Mustangs shot just under 47% en route to a 36-30 halftime advantage. Twenty-eight of those points came from the terrific trio of Anthony Cammon, Mike Harmon, and Chris Patureau.
Cammon got the Mustangs rolling with a three-pointer 30 seconds into play while a Patureau layup sparked a 9-0 run with that gave the club a 19-12 lead with 10:18 left in the first half. The freshman had another layup during the skein while Cammon fired in his second trifecta and capped things off with a layup.
But, the lead was not a safe one. In fact, it took the Sunbirds all of 76 seconds to erase, ripping off ten straight points to catch and then pass the Mustangs, going in front 22-19. The Mustangs knotted the game on their next possession when Reeves drilled a three-point but then they went scoreless for over two minutes before Patureau fueled another run.
His layup with 4:09 left in the half tied the game at 24 and keyed a 10-2 burst that he finished almost two minutes later in similar fashion. In between, Harmon supplied the firepower, burying a pair of treys. Cammon’s jumper with 1:06 showing on the clock capped a 10-point performance in the first half and gave the Mustangs their halftime margin.
Cammon and Harmon complemented Karlberg (18 points) with 12 points apiece while Patureau added 10 more and grabbed a team-high eight rebounds.
Clinging to a share of the GSAC lead, the Mustangs return home on Saturday evening to host Hope International in a 7:30pm start in Bross Gym. The Mustangs eked by the Royals 59-58 in overtime in early January.