Mustangs Escape Firestorm

December 10, 2016

Phoenix, Ariz. --  Lawrence Russell has become a double-double machine in his brief time as a Mustang.  Nine games into his first season at The Master's University, the junior transfer has recorded double figures in both points and rebounds six times.

None of those may have been as big as the one he posted Saturday afternoon in Phoenix when he scored 18 points and pulled down 12 boards in an 84-79 win over Arizona Christian.

The narrow road victory was a much-needed bounce-back for the Mustangs after a GSAC-opening loss to Westmont on Wednesday.  TMU is now 8-1 overall and 1-1 in conference play.

Following the game, first-year head coach Kelvin Starr said, "The team showed a lot of growth since our last outing against Westmont."

Russell saved his best for last, too.  His dunk with 4:06 left to play snapped a 74-all tie and he scored four more points during a game-closing, 10-3 run that put the contest in the win column for the Mustangs. 

Russell, who divided his points evenly between each half, got plenty of help from his teammates, too, as four other Mustangs scored in double figures.

Another junior transfer, Matt McClain, and senior Reid Shackelford sparked a first-half, 56% shooting effort with 12 and 11 points, respectively, propelling the Mustangs to a 49-37 halftime advantage.

The Mustangs never trailed over the opening 20 minutes after freshman Trevor Yenor drained a three-pointer with 17:48 left in the first half.  When the Firestorm pulled within 18-17 at the 10:38 mark, Shackelford buried a trifecta, Russell converted a layup, and Yenor hit another one from behind the arc to expand the margin to nine points (26-17) just over a minute later.

The lead grew into double digits (43-31) for the first time when Shackelford canned another three-pointer with 3:10 left and when he duplicated that 22 seconds later, the Mustangs had their largest lead of the stanza, 46-33.

During the initial 20 minutes, the Mustangs turned solid defense into points as they converted 10 Firestorm turnovers into 17 points while limiting the hosts to 44% shooting.

A McClain dunk just over a minute into the second half gave the Mustangs their largest advantage of the evening (51-37), one that would disappear over the next 14 minutes as the Firestorm methodically made their way back into the game.

A quick 7-0 run drew the Firestorm within 51-44, however, the Mustangs still enjoyed a double-digit lead (56-45) after Yenor drilled the last of three trifectas with 15:36 left.

Undaunted, the Firestorm continued to rally back, using a 10-2 run in a 2:20 window to pull within 66-64 at the 8:30 mark.  The Mustangs would lead by no more than four points (68-64) until a 10-4 skein by the Firestorm vaulted them ahead 74-72 with 5:08 remaining.

All that did was wake up Russell and company, who took over the rest of the way.

Russell's point total was equaled by Shackelford, who regained his touch from behind the arc (4-7) en route to 18 points.  Russell's dozen rebounds led everyone.  McClain and Yenor scored 15 points apiece and Delewis Johnson was strong off the bench again with 13 more.

Starr commented on his club's efforts in the final minutes, saying, "We are slowly learning how to close out GSAC games.  They are never easy to win, especially on the road."

With finals week coming up, the Mustangs won't play again until next Saturday when they travel to Riverside to play a non-conference game against La Sierra.