On an evening when The Master’s College honored three of its seniors, Azusa Pacific showed little respect, beating the Mustangs in several key areas on the court and 82-67 on the scoreboard.
The disappointing defeat was the Mustangs’ fifth in their past six GSAC outings and crushed any hope of the team finishing higher than sixth place in the conference standings. With one game left in the regular season, the Mustangs are safely in that spot with a GSAC record of 9-8 and 17-12 overall. On the positive side, the Mustangs have qualified for the conference tourney that starts on March 1.
The areas that stand out in defeat were 39% shooting (compared to APU’s 52%), 23 points off the bench (compared to APU’s 38), 16 points in the paint (compared to APU’s 26), and 15 points off turnovers (compared to APU’s 23).
None of this was evident in the early going when the Mustangs stuck with the 24th-ranked Cougars, bolting to a six-point lead but never trailing by more than three points until things started to unravel near the nine-minute mark of the first half. That initial six-point start came courtesy of consecutive three-pointers from senior Richard LaFleur and junior Devin Dyer.
It didn’t take long for the Cougars to recover, though, as they outscored the Mustangs 12-3 in a three-minute window to go up by three points. The Mustangs responded with consecutive layups from Leif Karlberg and Jon Hogan to regain the lead but a pair of Christian Katuala free throws put the Cougars ahead to stay, 14-13.
Still, the Mustangs stayed within easy striking distance and were only down 19-17 after Hogan tallied another layup with 9:47 left in the first half. But, that’s when the momentum shifted significantly toward the Cougars, who reeled off nine straight points (a trio of three-pointers) in two minutes and never trailed again.
The Mustangs sliced six points off that 28-17 deficit when consecutive trifectas from Mike Harmon and Jon Hogan made it a five-point game but the Cougars answered with a 14-5 burst, taking a 42-28 lead on two B. J. Porter free throws with 3:17 left in the half. They settled for a 44-32 advantage at halftime.
The Cougars shot a solid 50% from the field in the opening half while the Mustangs, who went just 5-18 from behind the arc, hit on 38% of their shots.
Those numbers didn’t improve much at all in the second half and that’s why the Mustangs never really made a concerted run at the Cougars. They tried early on, slicing a 12-point deficit (46-34) in half on consecutive Karlberg treys but the Cougars retaliated with an 11-2 skein and never led by less than 11 points the rest of the way.
That was at 57-46 but a little over two minutes later it expanded to 64-46 after a 7-0 spurt. The advantage hit a game-high 20 points twice (74-54, 80-60) in the final two minutes and the Cougars cruised home for the win.
Over the final 20 minutes, the Cougars improved their shooting to 55% and finished the game at 52%. On the other hand, the Mustangs, who went just 12-34 from behind the arc, finished the night at 39%.
Karlberg paced the Mustangs with 16 points, going 4-9 from three-point range. Senior Anthony Cammon was the only other Mustang in double figures, finishing with 11 points.
Secure in sixth place, the Mustangs hope to regain some much-needed momentum on Saturday when they conclude the regular season at Biola.