Azusa Pacific’s men’s basketball team was close to stumping Dixie State Monday night, but the reigning Pacific West Conference champions held on for the 82-75 victory.
“They’ve won the league four times in a row, and there’s just that level of pride they wear in how they conduct their business,” APU head coach Justin Leslie said.
After Dixie State earned an early lead, the Cougars answered back while the Red Storm racked up some fouls. Sophomore forward Sharif Watson heated up, sinking a couple good shots and going 4-for-4 at the line in the first half. Alongside Watson, the bench put up an additional 12 points to help keep the 44-37 lead going into the half.
Dixie State junior center Zach Robbins came out in the second half ready to play. Battling for 16 points in the second half, he finished the game with 27 points and 11 rebounds to drive his team to victory.
The key to the Cougars’ demise was a 10-0 Red Storm run midway through the second half. Leslie said his players needed a little more hustle to keep their upset from fizzling away.
“I thought we competed and executed well, but the bottom line was we just didn’t make quite enough of those hustle plays,” Leslie said. “There were loose balls we could have had and open shots that were there for us, but we just missed them.”
Senior forward Tyler Monroe was a valuable asset, giving the Cougars a team-high 17 points and adding four rebounds. Paired with Sharif Watson’s 12 points, seven rebounds, five blocks and four steals, they continued to keep the Cougars in the game against the Red Storm powerhouse despite the 82-75 loss.
“I’m proud of our effort tonight, but Dixie State just made more plays down the stretch,” Leslie said.
Despite the loss, the Cougars are confident in their upcoming game against the Cal Baptist Lancers, who currently sit undefeated atop the PacWest Conference with a 9-0 record.
“Our last two games have solidified the fact that we are going to be able to win these types of tough games that we keep getting into in this league,” Leslie said. “We were in a tough game again tonight after winning at Point Loma last Friday, and now we need to pick ourselves back up and be ready again this Friday night.”
The Cougars are set to cap the double-header Friday night at the Felix Event Center as they face off against the Lancers. Tip off is at 7:30 p.m.