The APU men’s basketball team is defying the odds early as they are off to a strong 3-0 start to the season
The APU men’s basketball team was picked to finish fifth in the PacWest preseason conference poll. That might have lowered expectations coming into the season. However, the Cougars have started the 2017 season 3-0, after a 92-70 win over Colorado Christian on Tuesday night in the team’s home opener in the Felix Event Center.
The Cougars came out strong in the first half, starting the game on a 9-0 run. They extended their lead to as big as 27-7, and didn’t look back.
“I was very pleased with our balance, and effort. This was a fun night for us,” head coach Justin Leslie said.
The Cougars were efficient in the first half, shooting 53 percent from the field. However, the defensive effort was impressive as well, holding Colorado Christian to 35 percent shooting in the first half.
“We’re making teams miss,” Leslie said. “We’re going to be tough to shoot well against this year if we really focus in on defense.”
APU gave up a game-high 33 rebounds on the night. Leslie understands that strong defense also includes good rebounding.
“We have to get better at rebounding,” Leslie said. “Back-to-back games we’ve forced a team into a poor shooting night, and we’ve allowed them to get too many of them back.”
However, the Cougars also forced Colorado Christian to commit 21 turnovers on the night. Sophomore guard Mandrell Worthy had a team-high three steals on the night.
The story of the night though was the offensive play. Senior forwards Corey Langerveld and Petar Kutlesic led the team in scoring with 13 points each. Langerveld was 5-12 shooting from the field on the night, while Kutlesic was 5-8 shooting, with five assists and five rebounds.
“Corey [Langerveld] and I are getting a lot of attention, but that just means it only takes a simple pass to find somebody with an open shot,” Kutlesic said.
APU was able to spread the ball around, with three different players scoring double digits points, and four different players scoring eight points.
“Our offense is built on movement, so a game like this when we have so much balance is exactly what we want,” Langerveld said.
In the second half, Colorado Christian was able to pull within 13 points. However, late in the second half APU was able to extend their lead to as big as 30 points, and ultimately won by 22.
APU was able to control most facets of the game. The Cougars outscored Colorado Christian in points in the paint, bench points, and points off turnovers. The Cougars shot a season-high 59 percent as a team.
The Cougars are off to a strong start, and defying what the preseason polls had them projected so far. Nonetheless, Kutlesic understands that there is still a lot of work to be done, and need to keep the momentum going.
“This happened my sophomore year when we were pretty good,” Kutlesic said. “We beat CBU [Cal Baptist], and we thought it was going to be the year, but we still had a whole season to go. So, I just think it’s essential to take it one game at a time.”
The Cougars will go on a five-game road trip starting this Friday when they travel to Western Oregon. Leslie sees this as a chance to see how good his team is.
“We’re going on the road to Western Oregon, and we’re going to find out how good we are,” Leslie said, “We’re a good team, but now we have an opportunity to make a big step.”