Azusa Pacific hosted California Baptist Tuesday night at the Felix Event Center for the first round of the National Christian College Athletic Association West Regional playoffs. The Cougars beat the Lancers 78-73 in this single elimination round.
The Lancers matched the Cougars point for point in the opening minutes, however, the Cougars took the lead with 12 minutes left to play in the first half didn’t let it go. The Cougars entered halftime with a 42-34 lead.
Tension heightened in the second half. Nine fouls were called against the Cougars within the first ten minutes of playing time, and six against the Lancers. Sophomore forward Troy Leaf and the Lancer’s junior guard Kyle Wong received technical fouls following a verbal dispute on court.
The Cougars led the remainder of the game, including a 13 point lead in the beginning of the second half. The Lancers’ efforts to bridge the gap led them to a four point game with just over two minutes to play and were not successful in closing the gap any farther.
The Lancers did perform well defensively, improving their rebounding from last Thursday’s 17-point loss to the Cougars.
“They rolled over last time, they weren’t going to do that again. The post season is different. With this young team, that’s what I try to tell them, that in the postseason it’s different. There’s a different level of fight and a passion that comes out,” said Head Coach Justin Leslie.
Despite the Lancers strong defensive efforts, the Cougars maintained a 50.9 percent shooting average. The Cougars defensive performance proved to be more successful, forcing the Lancers into 19 turnovers and keeping their shooting percentage down at 41.7 percent.
“We can defend, we can lower team’s percentages. We can guard, and we’re committed to guarding. We’ve shown consistently throughout the year when we’ve guarded, we’ve been good, and when we haven’t, we’re not very good. So I think they’re buying into that, they’re understanding that, and we’re coming closer to playing a more consistent 40 minutes,” Leslie said.
Senior guard B.J. Porter led the Cougars with 25 points, matching his career high. Leaf followed with 12 points, and a career high of 12 assists.
“It’s maturity. It’s toughness. It’s willing to go out there and do the unglamorous thing to make their teammates look good,” Leslie said.
With the lack of eligibility for NCAA post season, an opportunity to continue in post season with the NCCAA makes Tuesday night’s win particularly special.
“It doesn’t matter what we’re playing for. We’re playing to be a team another day, and that’s pretty special,” said Leslie.
The Cougars will travel to Fresno Pacific Wednesday for the NCCAA West Regional Championship game.