This isn’t the way Chuck Martin was expecting GSAC play to start. The eighth-year head coach thought that his Mustangs, winners in nine of their last 10 starts, were ready to go into Darling Pavilion Tuesday night and beat No. 25 Hope International in the conference opener for both squads.
Instead, the host Royals held serve, leading for all but 13 seconds in a 74-65 victory over the Mustangs. The Royals, who earned their Top 25 ranking earlier in the day, improved to 13-3 overall while the Mustangs dropped to 12-4.
The Royals served notice right away, scoring the game’s first six points and holding the Mustangs scoreless until Dominique Lanier (Lakewood, CA) halved the deficit with a three-point play at the 16:01 mark of the first half. A Zach Stalin (Bellingham, WA) jumper 32 seconds later closed the deficit to one point but the Mustangs couldn’t catch the Royals until Korey Anderson (Clovis, CA) hit a jumper with 11:23 left in the stanza, capping off a 7-2 burst for a 12-11 lead.
However, that narrowest of leads lasted all of 13 seconds as the Royals regained the advantage on their next possession and then parlayed a stifling defense and accurate shooting into a game-changing 10-0 run over a 5:36 span to create some separation (21-12) from which the Mustangs never fully recovered.
A Chris Patureau free throw with 5:34 left in the half ended the skein and the club drew within four points (23-19) when the Houston, Texas, native capped a 6-0 surge with a jumper less than a minute later. The Mustangs would get to within four points (24-20) one more time but the Royals doubled that margin before settling for a 31-25 lead at intermission.
Over the opening 20 minutes, the Mustangs shot just 33% (9-27) from the field, including a 1-7 mark from behind the arc while the Royals were a little better at 39% (11-28) overall and very good from long range (4-5).
The Royals’ marksmanship from behind the arc continued into the first minute of the second stanza when Matt Green drained a trifecta for a 34-25 lead. The advantage reached double digits again at 39-28 with 16:38 left to play before a quick, 5-0 skein, sparked by a Derrick Fain (Dallas, TX) layup and a Lanier three-pointer made it a six-point game with just under 15 minutes remaining.
That would be the closest the Mustangs would get the rest of the way as the Royals responded with an 11-2 burst that produced their largest lead (50-35) of the evening. They would enjoy that cushion four more times in the game’s final seven minutes, turning back any attempted rally by the Mustangs.
The margin dipped below 10 points on a few occasions, one of those at 50-42 with 9:04 left on a pair of Patureau free throws, however, the Royals ripped off seven straight points to squash the Mustangs’ fleeting rally.
Lanier, who went 5-10 from the field and 6-9 at the line to post a game-high 17 points, was joined in double figures by Stalin, who corralled a team-high eight rebounds, and Patureau with 12 points apiece while Reid Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) chipped in with 10 more.
Martin was gracious in defeat, saying, “Hope did a really good job defending us. I thought our effort was good and we played well enough defensively to win. But, we couldn’t put together enough significant offensive runs to win the game.”
They’ll need those runs and more on Saturday when they return home for the first time in over a month, hosting No. 7 Arizona Christian in a 4:00pm matinee on Bross Court.