Cougars notch PacWest win

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Senior forward Tyler Monroe returned with a strong performance on Thursday, Feb. 13 despite being away from the team for nearly a week. Photo credit: Kimberly Smith

Just two weeks after a 23-point road loss to BYU-Hawai’i, the Azusa Pacific men’s basketball team was able to get revenge Thursday night with an impressive 85-69 win over the Seasiders in the Felix Event Center.

After giving up the opening basket of the game to fall behind 0-2, the Cougars did not trail again for the rest of the evening. Mid-way through the second half, APU was able to stretch its lead to 20 points.

Leading the charge for the Cougars was senior forward Tyler Monroe, who came off the bench to score 22 points on 10-of-12 shooting along with seven rebounds in 21 minutes of action. He missed the three-game road trip to Hawai’i in order to be with his pregnant wife, who gave birth to their son on Monday.

The Cougars were able to jump out to an early 16-5 lead in the first half after connecting on four shots from beyond the arc. The Seasiders then made a run of their own to cut the lead to 20-15 with 7:30 left in the first half. Monroe followed up with a few quick buckets before the end of the half to put the Cougars up 34-24 at the break.

After giving up 17 three-pointers in their last meeting against BYU-Hawaii, the Cougars were focused on playing sound defense this time around.

“We had to just get their guards out of rhythm and pressure them and that really just took away the touches that their post players got,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “It’s tough to take away the three and the post, but we had a game plan to do it and the guys executed it really well.”

Offensively, a more patient approach that confused the Seasiders defense allowed the Cougars to shoot 59 percent from the field with the junior guard combo of Troy Leaf and Robert Sandoval, who consistently set up teammates with open looks at the basket. Leaf finished the game with 13 points and seven assists while Sandoval added 15 points and eight assists.

At the midpoint of the second half, the Cougars had their biggest lead of the game at 20 points when a block by sophomore forward Sharif Watson turned into an easy transition layup at the opposite end of the floor.

Just minutes later, BYU-Hawaii freshman guard Cory Lange caught fire, helping the Seasiders cut the lead in half to 76-66. Lange finished the game with 23 points, hitting 13-of-13 from the free-throw line.

But Monroe once again provided a spark off the bench with two emphatic dunks to keep the Cougars up for good.

Monroe was glad to be back after missing the previous meeting against BYU-Hawaii while spending time away from the court to be with his wife and newborn son.

“It feels great, that’s what I’ve done since high school. That’s been my role to kind of bring the energy,” Monroe said. “I love it, that’s what I love to do.”

After the victory, the Cougars now hold a 12-9 overall record and an 8-7 conference record. They look forward to Saturday’s game against Hawai’i Pacific, set to tip off at 8 p.m.