Although falling behind early, the Cougars fought back with good defense and shot selection for the comeback victory
The Azusa Pacific basketball team started off slow but fought back for a 74-57 victory over the Urban Knights of Academy of Art at the Felix Event Center on Thursday night.
The Cougars had to overcome a 14-point deficit in the second half to start the conference season with a victory. With a strong defensive effort, the Cougars held Academy of Art to a second half field goal percentage of 27 percent while APU shot 43 percent.
“It is effort and energy. We were the aggressor. We were getting the boards,” head coach Justin Leslie said. “But the other thing is we got to the line 23 times in the second half. Even though we did not shoot that well from the perimeter, it was still an efficient offensive game for us because of our ability to get to the foul line.”
Both teams finished the contest shooting under 40 percent from the field, but a big difference was the disparity in foul shots. The Cougars had 32 attempts while Academy of Art only had eight. Along with the difference in foul shots, the Cougars controlled the second half with 33 rebounds compared to the Urban Knights with nine.
“We gave second effort in rebounding and everybody crashed the boards,” senior forward Petar Kutlesic said. “In the first half, we were giving away too many offensive rebounds and too many turnovers. But in the second half, we had great effort on defensive rebounds. We made them miss, picked up the ball and our defense was great.”
Azusa Pacific struggled in the first half with a 30 percent field goal percentage. This poor shooting in the first half found the Cougars down at halftime 33-25. Senior forward Corey Langerveld led the team at halftime in points with seven after making all three of his shots.
This was just the beginning for Langerveld, as he would finish with 20 points and seven rebounds. He would go 8-for-13 in shooting and 3-of-6 from three-point range.
“Corey [Langerveld] was first basket of the game for us,” Leslie said. “He was steady the entire way. He really competed well and was confident tonight. I was happy to see the ball go in the hole for him.”
Langerveld went on to state that the team fed off their own energy once they started making shots.
“We came out pretty slow and this game was a big learning experience for us,” Langerveld said. “We jacked up the energy. I have not seen that type of energy from us since the first weekend. In this game, I think we fed off the energy that we finally established and it feels good to be 1-0 [in conference].”
The Cougars went on an 11-0 run with a little over 10 minutes left in the game to regain the lead and spark a comeback. The balanced scoring played a big factor as junior point guard Darien McClain led the team in scoring with 22 points and sophomore guard Mandrell Worthy added 14 points off the bench.
“We are very capable in scoring in a bunch of different ways. We still haven’t hit our stride offensively at all,” Leslie said. “We are a good defensive team and I think that as we can develop a little bit more of a consistency on the defensive end, our offense is going to continue to grow. We just have to find ways of not turning it over and working to get efficient shots up.”
The 11-0 scoring run in the second half featured two fast break layups by guards Worthy and McClain. After a timeout by Academy of Art, Langerveld hit a three-pointer from the right wing to give the Cougars a 46-43 lead. It was their first lead since 14-12 in the first half and it proved to be a pivotal moment in the Cougars 74-57 comeback win.
The Cougars improve to a 5-4 record overall and start 1-0 in conference play. The next game will be this Saturday vs. Point Loma in the Felix Event center.