There’s a reason why Hope International’s defense is the best in the country. They had it on vivid display Tuesday evening in Bross Gym, taking over in the last six minutes of play and grinding out a 73-66 win over The Master’s College in the GSAC opener for both squads.
The loss was the Mustangs’ second in a row and dropped them to 11-5 overall.
Entering the game, the Royals were holding opponents to just a tick over 55 points a game and though the Mustangs shot a credible 46% (23-50) from the field on the way to scoring 11 points above HIU’s defensive average, every jump shot, every layup, and every attempt in the paint was aggressively contested.
It didn’t appear to have much effect early on as the Mustangs led by as many as nine points in the first half and never trailed. But, things were different over the final 20 minutes as the Mustangs started to wear down under the constant pressure of a Royal defense that seemed to be everywhere all the time.
That nine-point, first-half lead (22-13), the largest of the evening for the Mustangs, was created by a 17-8 skein that took nearly seven minutes to create. Junior center Austin Loeb (Cypress, CA) got it started with a layup and Derrick Fain (Houston, TX) finished it off in similar fashion with 9:40 left in the first half. In between, Leif Karlberg (Anchorage, AK) and Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC) drained three-pointers, Devin Dyer (Temecula, CA) added two layups, Korey Anderson (Clovis, CA) hit a jumper, and Fain tacked on a free throw.
The Royals struck back with four straight points and started to show some of that defense by holding the Mustangs scoreless over a 3:29 window. Fortunately, the Royals were having trouble finding the range, too, and couldn’t close the gap below five points until a Jeremy Kilgore jumper with 1:20 left in the half sliced the deficit to 29-25. It was part of a 6-0 spurt that pulled the visitors within 29-27 on a Kris Rosales’ layup at the 1:01 mark.
A pair of Dyer free throws doubled the Mustang advantage but a Kilgore trifecta cut the margin to one point (31-30) before Chris Patureau answered with a layup that sent the Mustangs to the locker room up 33-30.
Over the opening 20 minutes, the Mustangs shot a healthy 48% (12-25) while the Royals, paced by Rosales who went 6-7 from the field en route to 12 points, were even better at 56% (14-25).
That late, first-half surge by the Royals continued into the opening minutes of the second half as they took their first lead of the game (34-33) on a Kilgore layup with 18:43 left to play. Dyer, who was challenged by Rosales all evening long, answered with a free throw that put the Mustangs back in front. The Royals tied the game on a Kilgore free throw but a Karlberg trey reclaimed the lead (38-35) for the Mustangs with 15:31 remaining and they would stay in front for over six minutes.
But, in that span, the Royal defense started to take its toll as they used it to chip away at the deficit. The Mustangs enjoyed a 49-43 lead on a pair of Dyer free throws with 11:29 left but a 7-0 HIU run erased that in just over three minutes, taking a 50-49 lead on an Orlando Collins jump shot at the 8:51 mark.
That set up a back-and-forth battle over the next two minutes until a Garrett Neilan three-pointer put the Royals ahead for good, 55-54, with 6:43 left to play. It fueled a 7-0 burst that forged a 59-54 lead. The Royals never led by fewer than four points the rest of the way.
Another Dyer free throw at the 3:11 mark pulled the Mustangs within 61-57 but a 9-3 Royal run extended the visitors’ lead to 70-60 and polished off TMC. Consecutive three-pointers from Karlberg and Dyer in the final 23 seconds only closed the gap slightly.
Dyer persevered through a very physcial contest to lead the Mustangs with 16 points. Karlberg complemented him with 15 points, all of them coming on a 5-7 performance from behind the arc, while Logan tacked on 12 more. Loeb had a solid evening inside, tallying nine points and taking down a season-high nine rebounds.
The Mustangs will try to bounce back from a tough, conference-opening loss when they travel to Arizona Christian Saturday evening.