January 16, 2016
Santa Clarita, Calif. -- Less than 48 hours after being humbled by No. 9 Hope International, it only seemed logical that The Master's College would have even less of a chance against seventh-ranked Arizona Christian Saturday afternoon.
However, basketball can be an illogical game and it proved to be just that when the Mustangs put together their finest performance of the 2015-16 campaign before falling to the Firestorm 78-76 in front of a raucous crowd at Bross Court.
The crowd's enthusiasm was not lost on Ken Sugarman. The second-year head coach said, "I first want to thank all the fans that came out today. After playing games during the break without the student body, it was a huge shot of adrenaline for us. We needed the energy that came from their enthusiasm."
The loss was the club's seventh in a row, five of those coming in the GSAC where the Mustangs are 1-5 (4-10 overall).
The Mustangs didn't go quietly, though. Trailing 75-68 with 40 seconds remaining, the club used a 7-2 burst to get within 77-75 on two Reid Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) free throws with 11 seconds left. However, a Firestorm free throw with five seconds showing was only matched by an Evan Jenkins' (Los Angeles, CA) charity toss and the Mustangs fell just short of an upset.
They were in that position largely due to Jenkins' play. In just his fourth game back after sitting out nine with an injury, the junior guard poured in a career-high 23 points, 17 of those coming in the second half when the Mustangs led at one point (63-62 with seven minutes left to play) and made it close at the end.
His three-pointer with 17:19 left to play drew the Mustangs within 42-37, another trey sliced the deficit to 62-61 at the 8:15 mark, and the final of his five, career-high trifectas pulled TMC within 76-73 with 21 seconds remaining.
Jenkins' point guard skills were also evident during the Mustangs' 21-10 blitz to open the game. Displaying their finest stretch (over eight minutes) of offense of the season, the Mustangs used three-pointers from Shackelford and Jenkins to bolt to a 10-2 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes.
They continued to rely on their long-distance marksmanship in opening up that 11-point advantage as Shackelford, Keegan Scott (Spirit Lake, ID), and Jenkins drained shots from behind the arc.
However, the Firestorm took all that, remained standing, and then methodically chipped away at the deficit. Down by 11, ACU ripped off 12 of the game's next fourteen points to get within 23-22 at the 7:06 mark of the first half.
They didn't catch the Mustangs, though, until a Mike Navar jumper knotted the score at 30 with 2:36 left in the half. When he duplicated that 34 seconds later, the Firestorm had their first lead, one they expanded into a 37-31 advantage at the break.
The Mustangs shot 37% from the field in the first half and wound up at 41% for the game.
Complementing Jenkins' career-high total were Shackelford with 20, highlighted by four three-pointers, and Delewis Johnson (Rancho Cucamonga, CA) with 15 more off the bench. Webb hauled down a game-high 11 rebounds as the Mustangs were outrebounded 48-34.
Following the game, Sugarman commented, "I am really proud of our guys tonight. Every one of them really poured their heart and soul into this game and it's tough to come up two points short. They have shown time and time again this year that they have character and I know that we will bounce back well next week."
After playing two games in three days, the Mustangs now get some rest before welcoming William Jessup to Bross Court next Thursday. The Warriors edged the Mustangs 71-62 in the clubs' first meeting in Rocklin on December 12.