Mawugbe’s double-double paved the way to a 75-71 victory over the Silverswords

Azusa Pacific faced a tough test against the Chaminade Silverswords on Saturday, as the teams were ranked second and third in the PacWest, respectively, prior to the matchup. At times, the game took on the aura of a track meet, as the teams raced up and down the court in the Felix Event Center. Despite the pace of play, the Cougars held on and came away with a 75-71 victory.

In their previous meeting in Hawaii, the Cougars gave up 96 points, many of which came by way of fast breaks, en route to one of their three conference losses. Although this stat didn’t worry first-year head coach Peter Bond, he noted that it was something they needed to work at before this game.

“I felt like we did a great job at that tonight. [Chaminade is] the best team in the conference in transition. Last time we played, they got a lot of points by getting out and running, so that was a big point of emphasis,” said Bond. “But we did a great job of getting back and loaded and then using our length to our advantage.”

Despite the competitive nature of the game, the Cougars never trailed. APU took the lead early in the first half on a jumper by senior Jake Spurgeon and a three-pointer from senior Noah Bundrant for a 6-2 lead. 

The teams went back and forth through the early part of the first half, but the Cougars started to pull away with about 10 minutes until halftime. Senior Ben Taufahema gave APU a three-point lead with a jumper in the paint before and senior Selom Mawugbe threw down a dunk for a 23-18 lead.

The Silverswords made a push with about seven minutes left in the half, but their surge was short-lived. Three-pointers from both Bundrant and junior Terrance Becvar and another rim-rocking dunk from Mawugbe gave the Cougars a nine-point lead with two minutes left in the half. APU kept the score difference at about nine points for the rest of the half and took a 39-30 lead into the break.

“We played some really good defense in the first half,” said junior Brennan Rymer. “Then we came out in the second half and didn’t play as well as we would have liked to. But at the end of the night, it really came down to the defense. Keeping that team to just 71 points when they normally score around 80 or 85 points per game shows that we did a good job.”

Coming out of the half, Chaminade went on a 6-0 run to cut the Cougar lead to just three points. APU would have to live with a small lead for the rest of the game, as they never led by more than seven points in the second half. With 9:12 left in the game, Rymer hit a three-pointer to give the Cougars a 56-51 lead. But the five-point cushion was not to last, as the Silverswords cut the lead down to just one point just two minutes later.

Timely plays from Bundrant and Spurgeon gave the Cougars the boost they needed in the closing minutes. Bundrant wove his way into the lane for a layup to give the Cougars a three-point lead. Following a pair of made free throws, Spurgeon splashed a three-pointer from distance for a 65-58 lead with 3:24 left on the clock. From that point on, the Cougars relied on shots from the charity stripe to maintain the lead and come away with a much-needed victory.

“That was a good win for us,” Bundrant said. “It is a telling sign when you can win and not shoot great. We didn’t have the best shooting night, but we defended well and made them take tough looks and ground it out.”

On the night, APU shot 8-31 from behind the arc and 43.5 percent from the field. No Cougar had more than two made threes and Mawugbe was the only player with more than five made shots.

“We had to dig in deep and stay in the gaps and, honestly, just grind,” Bundrant said. “There will be games where you’ll shoot well and we can win that game by 20, but on nights like this we just have to go into our defense and get the win that way.”

The Cougars will stay at home for the next four games. Hawaii Pacific is up next on Monday at 7:30 p.m. The Sharks sit in the bottom half of the standings at 7-8 in PacWest play. APU can take hold of first place in the PacWest with a win and a Point Loma loss at home against Chaminade. The Cougars beat Point Loma in overtime on the road on Wednesday to stay in contention for the title.