Cougars can’t weather Storm in OT

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APU: Troy Leaf 39 pts, 9 reb

Dixie State: Mason Sawyer 17 pts, 10 ast

Azusa Pacific men’s basketball fell 97-91 in Saturday’s heart-breaking overtime loss to Dixie State.

The game was a shootout from the start, spearheaded by APU’s Troy Leaf. The senior guard lit up the scoreboard for 19 points in the game’s first 8 1/2 minutes. The Cougars worked their way out to a nine-point lead nine minutes into the first half, riding Leaf’s early points.

The Red Storm came back, taking a 48-45 lead into the half on near 60 percent shooting. Dixie State held this lead until the Cougars were finally able to claw out and take a 74-72 lead with 5:03 left in the second half. The teams battled in the final minutes before heading to overtime tied at 79.

Overtime was all Dixie State. The Red Storm headed out to an early lead and held on through the Cougars’ late fouling. The Red Storm made 13-of-17 free throw attempts in the extra period to seal the game.

Leaf contributed a personal best 39 points, including seven 3-pointers.

“Troy was fantastic tonight,” said Cougar head coach Justin Leslie. “He scored a lot of points in a very efficient manner, and he picked his spots well.”

However, the rest of the squad was let down by its 3-point shooting. The Cougars shot just 29.4 percent (10-of-34) from behind the arc. Removing Leaf’s 7-of-13, the Cougars were just 3-for-21 (14.8 percent).

On top of the poor 3-point shooting, APU allowed Dixie State to take 43 free throws. These gave the Red Storm too many free points for the Cougars to overcome.

Despite this, the Cougars were still in position to win on the road against one of the best teams in the conference. Being able to overcome off-nights to play tight games is a sign of a team that possesses both the talent and heart to compete at a high level, something the Cougars plan to do as they enter the latter half of their schedule and post-season opportunities.

“We’ve had an easy stretch and the schedule is only getting tougher for us. We know what it takes to compete with anyone, but in order to come out on top of these things, we have to make a few more plays on each side of the ball,” Leslie said. “There’s no doubt we have fight in us, we just have to make sure we do all those little details.”

APU now enters the meat of its schedule, with nine of its 11 remaining games coming against the top half of the conference.

The Cougars will head home for a matchup against Point Loma Jan. 21, then a rematch against Dixie State Jan. 24.

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