The Cougars put on a passionate yet controlled display in Thursday’s game against the Urban Knights

On Feb. 28 the Azusa Pacific Cougars took on the Academy of Art Urban Knights in a passionate battle, both fighting for bragging rights. With a boisterous crowd keeping the energy in the building throughout the night, the Cougars rolled on to a strong 77-62 win.

APU’s football team filled the stands, giving the Cougars an extra push. However, from the opening tip-off, it looked like the Cougars got into their own heads a bit, getting off to a slow start. The Cougars struggled on offense but played solid defense.

“We made it hard for them to score,” said head coach Justin Leslie. “They shot a low percentage and were very inefficient from the floor out there and we knew playing the zone would bother them.”

This zone defense strategy certainly helped the Cougars create a cushion in the first half as the Urban Knights shot 13 for 30 in the first half down by 18 points.

Senior Will Ferris had a strong night, shooting 4 of 7 including two baskets from beyond the arc, totaling 10 points. He was the only player in the game to have a double-digit point total at the half.

However, in the first half, the Cougars struggled with ball security, turning over the ball seven times. On a positive note, the Cougars defense stood strong as they only allowed six points off of those seven turnovers in the first half.

Going into the second half, Academy of Art was still very much in the game. The Urban Knights shot 45 percent from the field in the second half which was a 10 percent improvement from the first. That smart shooting allowed them to cut the lead down to just 10 at one point.

Around this time, the Cougars began to feed off of the energy from the crowd, which gave them an extra burst of speed.

“Having the crowd loud like that, especially the football team, that makes all of the difference in the game,” said junior Selom Mawugbe. “Anytime the crowd adds energy it’s always positive and never negative. It’s always a great thing and we appreciate the love and support we get from the fans, parents and everyone that comes out.”

As time ticked down, the Cougars continued to play smart basketball. However, Academy of Art played with a chip on their shoulder until the final whistle and the Cougars were never able to sit back and relax. As the Urban Knights threw everything they could at the Cougars, APU remained calm and got the big win on home court.

With one more game left in the regular season, the Cougars know they need to improve as much as they can before heading into the conference tournament.

“Rebounding and turnovers have been a key all year for us and we’ve done a bunch of things in practice to improve on that,” Ferris said. “So I think we need to focus in practice tomorrow and gain some momentum on Saturday.”

The Cougars’ final home game will be played in the Felix Event Center against Dominican on Saturday, March 2. The Cougars have already clinched a postseason berth, but still, improve their seeding in the upcoming conference tournament.