Uncharacteristic play and a lack of defense led to a 90-82 loss for APU on Tuesday night

There was a great deal of excitement filling the Felix Event Center on Tuesday night as APU men’s basketball began their regular season at home against Cal. St. Los Angeles. With new head coach Peter Bond coaching his first home game of the season, the Cougars looked to begin on a positive note. Unfortunately, the Golden Eagles of CSULA had other plans as they came away with the victory with a final score of 90-82.

Going into this one, the Cougars had confidence and momentum on their side as they had just come off of two wins against tough opponents in the Sodexo Tip-Off Classic facing Cal Poly Pomona and Chico State sealing 66-62 and 97-91 wins respectively. In those two games, the Cougars were led by the experienced play of senior Selom Mawugbe and junior Jake Spurgeon.

Mawugbe tallied six total blocks in just those two games and snagged 17 rebounds, averaging 13.5 points per contest while shooting at a solid 55 percent. Spurgeon averaged 18.5 points-per-game, including shooting 53 percent from the three-point line. 

Trying to carry over the success from their two contests, things did not go the Cougars way early on as the Golden Eagles jumped out to a 25-12 lead just eight minutes into the game. Senior Shacquille Dawkins of CSULA, standing at just 5’9”, was able to use his small stature to wreak havoc on APU’s reactionary defense. Dawkins began the game making 4-5 shots, including 3-3 from beyond the arc.

As the first half wore on, the Cougars committed 12 turnovers, which allowed the Golden Eagles to score 16 points off of those turnovers in comparison to the Cougars four points off turnovers. It was clear in the first half that CSULA was doing a much better job of looking for easy plays and protecting the ball. 

Although the first half was certainly frustrating for the Cougars, they were only down by six going into halftime. While they were down by a total of 16 with just over 14 minutes to play in the half, APU never hit the panic button and continued to keep the pressure up on the offensive side of the ball.

The player of the half for the Cougars was certainly Mawugbe as he solidified himself as a dominant force at both ends of the court. Mawugbe’s nine points helped the Cougars remain in the game, but his defensive play was even more outstanding. With eight rebounds, one steal and five blocks, Mawugbe did not allow the Golden Eagles to find any easy buckets while he was on the court.

Overall, the Cougars had a lackluster half offensively as they went 10-27 from the field shooting at 37 percent, including shooting a disappointing 31 percent from the three-point line. CSULA went 13-31 from the field, including a solid 43 percent from the three-point line. 

In the second half, the Cougars looked to continue the trend of outplaying their opponents in the final 20 minutes as they had done in their prior two games, where they outscored teams 84-68. While their offense improved, it still wasn’t enough to take down the Golden Eagles.

As the Cougars began to battle back, they managed to slowly but surely facilitate an efficient offensive attack and didn’t allow CSULA to capture the uncontested three’s and close two’s. Tying the game at 61 points with eight minutes remaining in the game, the Cougars looked to have all of the momentum on their side and the Golden Eagles were left scrambling for results.

However, the Cougars’ defense simply fell apart in the final minutes of the contest and the Golden Eagles powered ahead. Allowing 29 points in the final eight minutes, the Cougars were left stunned as CSULA cruised in the final stretch, sealing a 90-82 win.

Coach Bond pointed out the need to improve the team’s defense.

“The biggest thing is how we guard the three-point line,” said Bond. “In our three games now, teams are shooting better from three than two which isn’t a recipe for success. That’s an individual effort and attention to detail fix that we need to make.”

Overall, uncharacteristic play from the Cougars led to the loss in their home-opener and this certainly wasn’t the same basketball that was played by the Cougars in their two prior games. 

“The disappointing part of tonight was that’s not who we are as a team. Every team has their own style and their own identity and we tried to play like [CSULA] which isn’t us,” said Bond. “We got out of character and that’s definitely something we can fix but we have to understand our identity as a team and be the best APU team we can be and not somebody else.”

Performances from Mawugbe tallying a double-double with 19 points and 19 rebounds as well as solid outings from junior Brennan Rymer (11-4-4), sophomore Ben Avera (14-4-1) and Spurgeon (16-7-5) were overshadowed by defensive struggles in this tough opening loss of the season.

The Cougars will head back out on the road on Friday to Seattle to play in the Aramark GNAC/PacWest Challenge where they will face Seattle Pacific and Western Washington before returning home to face Cal. St. San Marcos on Nov. 26 in the Felix Event Center at 7:30 p.m.