January 11, 2017
El Cajon, Calif. -- Thomas Wolfe wrote a book nearly 80 years ago entitled "You Can't Go Home Again."
Needless to say, Wolfe wasn't thinking of TMU men's basketball coach Kelvin Starr, who returned to San Diego Christian College Thursday evening, a place where he played for four years and spent 11 more seasons on the Hawks' coaching staff, the last five as head coach (2002-07).
Making it easier for Starr to go home again was the play of his Mustangs, who used a big night from Lawrence Russell and Delewis Johnson to forge an 81-74 victory. The win snapped a two-game GSAC losing streak and improved the Mustangs to 2-3 in conference play and 13-3 overall.
Russell and Johnson each notched double-doubles and combined for 42 points and 21 rebounds. They took turns leading the club's offensive fortunes with Johnson scoring 17 first-half points as the Mustangs led most of the opening stanza while Russell tossed in 16 in the second half and put his club ahead to stay.
Johnson scored seven points during a 12-0 Mustang run that turned a two-point (10-8) deficit into a 10-point lead with 12:46 left in the opening half. A Matthew McClain layup just under a minute later gave the Mustangs their largest lead of the evening, 24-12.
The Hawks started to chip away at that deficit, eventually tying the game at 35-all with 2:04 left in the half. Twelve seconds later, Hansel Atencia unlocked the tie with a three-pointer and Russell added a layup and a free throw, and the Mustangs went to intermission up 41-39.
Johnson went 6-10 from the field and 5-6 from the line en route to his 17 opening-half points. Collectively, the Mustangs shot 48% from the field during the first 20 minutes while limiting the Hawks to 41% shooting.
Coming out of the break, Reid Shackelford went to work, draining a three-pointer to give his team a five-point edge and then converting a couple of layups, the second of which put the Mustangs up 53-43 at the 16:09 mark.
That double-digit lead lasted all of one possession as the Hawks, like they had done in the first half, began to carve away at the deficit. Using an 8-2 burst during a two-minute window, the hosts caught the Mustangs at 59-all with 11:31 remaining. Just over four minutes later (7:36), the Hawks went ahead 65-64.
The Hawks' tenacity impressed their former coach, who commented, "Coach Mendez had his team well-prepared and they played hard the entire game."
Just when it seemed the game was slipping away, Russell stepped up. The junior transfer, who has led the club in scoring and rebounding through the first 15 games, calmly sank two charity tosses on the next possession to move the Mustangs back in front. Those free throws sparked a 6-0 skein that put the Mustangs ahead to stay.
Layups by Russell at the 5:33 and 3:50 marks, respectively, gave the Mustangs two six-point advantages(72-66 and 74-68) and his free throw with seven seconds remaining put an exclamation point on the victory.
Starr was particularly pleased with his team's play in the closing minutes, saying, "We had to make some big plays down the stretch to get the road win."
Russell led all scorers with 22 points, gong 6-12 from the field and 10-15 from the line. He also pulled down 10 rebounds, notching his team-high ninth double-double of the campaign.
Johnson recorded a double-double, as well, finishing with 20 points and a career-high 11 rebounds. Shackelford tossed in 11 points and dished out a game-high four assists while Evan Jenkins scored 10 more.
After playing three games in five days, the Mustangs get some time off before returning home to face Vanguard next Tuesday evening at 7:30pm on Bross Court.