Something had to give Tuesday evening when The Master’s College faced Cal State San Marcos. Both squads entered the clash with eight-game winning streaks, the host Cougars having vaulted to No. 4 in the NAIA Top 25 earlier in the day while the Mustangs were looking for some national respect, too.
If the game had been 20 minutes in duration, the Mustangs would have come away with an upset of the Cougars, a nine-game winning skein, and a reason to be ranked. However, the game is a 40-minute one and on this evening the host Cougars put together a huge second half, scoring 54 points en route to a 90-67 victory.
The loss, the first for the Mustangs since November 19, dropped them to 11-3 while the Cougars improved to 18-1.
The opening 20 minutes had all the makings of a classic. It featured seven ties and eight lead changes, and the largest advantage for either team was six points, lending credence to the appearance that these were two very good, evenly-matched squads.
Sparked by consecutive jumpers from Derrick Fain (Dallas, TX) that fueled an 8-0 run, the Mustangs bolted to a 14-8 lead. Chris Patureau (Houston, TX) added a bucket and Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC) capped off the burst with a layup at the 13:25 mark.
The Mustangs led by six points one more time at 17-11 with 10:50 left in the first half but it took all of 27 seconds for the Cougars to knot things up, using a pair of Zack Zaragosa three-pointers to set up a seesaw pattern for the next seven minutes.
Aided by a pair of Mustang turnovers, a De’End Parker layup with 2:57 remaining created some separation (32-28) and 36 seconds later they manufactured their first six-point margin of the contest, going up 36-30 on a Jason Johnson layup.
However, the Mustangs showed great resiliency, holding the Cougars scoreless the rest of the half and reeling off seven points of their own to go into halftime up 37-36. Junior Bernard Ireland (Victorville, CA) started and ended the skein, sandwiching a pair of jumpers around a Fain layup and a Logan free throw to send the Mustangs in front for the last time.
In a very competitive first half, the Mustangs shot a solid 52% (16-31) from the field while the Cougars hit just 41% (14-34). The reason why the Cougars were so close were 11 Mustang turnovers that translated into 15 San Marcos points while the Mustangs managed just six points off just five Cougar miscues.
The stage was now set for a repeat of the initial 20 minutes and a nail-biter. That facade, though, started to show cracks in the first five minutes of the second stanza when the Cougars outscored the Mustangs 13-2 to take a 49-39 lead.
The Mustangs had one more challenge left in them. Layups by Logan and Zach Staliin (Bellingham, WA) drew the club to within 51-45 with 13:38 left to play, however, that was as close as they would get the rest of the way as the Cougars roared away over the next six minutes, tearing off a 17-6 skein to turn a close game into a runaway at 68-51.
A Parker layup at the 4:38 mark made it an 80-59 game and the Cougars led by less than that only once down the stretch while enjoying a game-high 25-point lead twice (85-60, 90-65) in the final minutes.
The Cougars scorched the nets at a 58% clip over the final 20 minutes while the Mustangs slipped to 46% (12-26) and finished at 49% for the game. Once again, turnovers really hurt the Mustangs as nine more turned into 16 San Marcos points over the final 20 minutes.
Fain and Stalin led the Mustangs with 12 points apiece while Logan notched his third double-double of the campaign with 10 points and a game-high 10 rebounds.
After spending the last three-plus weeks on the road, the Mustangs return to the friendly confines of Bross Court Saturday evening when they’ll try to start a new winning streak against La Sierra in a 7:30pm start.