Another day closer to the regular season The Master’s University men’s basketball team found out how important playing two solid halves is in a 110-86 exhibition loss to NCAA Division I Southern Utah Saturday evening.
Playing their second non-counting game in three days, the Mustangs started slowly against the Thunderbirds and then put on a shooting display that rallied them to a halftime lead.
The T-Birds bolted to a 17-4 lead in the first five minutes and appeared on the edge of a blowout. However, over the next 12 minutes, the Mustangs methodically whittled away at the deficit.
Leading the way was sophomore guard Delewis Johnson, who scored 14 of his 21 first-half points in that span. His three-pointer with 3:09 left in the first half gave the Mustangs their first lead of the evening, 41-39. The Mustangs didn’t trail the rest of the half and sophomore transfer Hansel Atencia was responsible for much of that as he drained two of his four first-half trifectas in a 22-second span and when he scored on a layup with four seconds left on the clock, TMU went to halftime ahead 54-49.
Over the opening 20 minutes, the Mustangs shot an outstanding 59% (19-32) from the field, including a sparkling 10-19 from behind the arc. At the break, Atencia complemented Johnson with 14 points and Reid Shackelford had 12 more, including three from long distance.
Those numbers changed dramatically over the final 20 minutes. After Johnson’s layup 41 seconds into the closing half gave the Mustangs their largest lead of the evening, 56-49, the Thunderbirds’ offense woke up again.
Over the next 2:49, they reeled off 11 straight points to move in front 60-56. After Johnson answered with five straight points to move the Mustangs back in front by a point, a three-pointer from John Marshall vaulted the Thunderbirds ahead for good 63-61 at the 15:28 mark.
Southern Utah started to put the game away almost two minutes later when they scored 22 of the game’s next 25 points in a 5:19 window to extend the lead to 87-66 with 8:20 remaining.
After enjoying a solid first half of shooting, the Mustangs managed just 31% (10-32) accuracy over the final 20 minutes while the Thunderbirds hit at a 53% clip. For the game, the Mustangs finished at 45% (29-64).
Johnson’s 28 points paced the Mustangs as he went 10-13 from the field. Atenica and Shackelford finished with 16 points apiece. Lawrence Russell was the only other Mustang in double figures, tacking on 10 points.
Evan Jenkins came off the bench with a strong performance, dishing out a game-high nine assists while sharing game-high honors with 10 rebounds.
Following the game, first-year head coach Kelvin Starr commented, “We played a great first half, shot the ball extremely well. The second half was a different story. We definitely need to improve on the defensive end. We’re looking forward to getting back to the practice floor.”
The Mustangs open the regular season next Friday evening at the West Coast Baptist Tournament but before they do, they have another high-profile exhibition left, this one at UCLA on Tuesday evening. The Mustangs and the Bruins tip it off at 7:30pm at Pauley Pavilion.