The Master’s College has chosen the right time of the year to start peaking. Twelve days away from the start of the GSAC Tournament, the Mustangs are playing their best basketball of the season.
More evidence of that came Saturday evening when the club turned in its best defensive performance of the campaign in a 61-45 throttling of San Diego Christian. The victory was the squad’s fourth in a row and pulled it into a four-way tie in the GSAC where they own a 6-6 record (18-9 overall), one game behind second-place Arizona Christian.
Heading into the final two games of the regular season, the Mustangs have a real shot at finishing fourth or higher, a spot that would guarantee them a first-round, home game in the GSAC Tournament that commences on March 6.
If they keep playing defense the way they did against the Hawks, they should have no problem playing on Bross Court the first week of March. After the Hawks shot a respectable 46% in the first half, the Mustangs applied the clamps over the final 20 minutes, limiting the visitors to 20% (5-25) accuracy. The Hawks scored just 15 points in the second half and wound up shooting just under 33% (16-49) for the game. Both marks were defensive bests for the Mustangs in 2013-14.
Coach Chuck Martin marveled at his squad’s defense, saying, “I thought the kids put together one of the best defensive performances of the season…to hold them to 20% in the second half and take the three-ball (6-21) away from them most of the night was really good.”
On the other hand, Martin felt fortunate because his team struggled in the second half, too, connecting on just 29% (7-24) of its shots. Four of those field goals (4-8) came from behind the arc and that, along with the defense, helped the Mustangs expand an eight-point halftime lead.
Down 38-30 at the break, the Hawks chopped the deficit to five on a Derek Dickerson three-pointer with 17:59 left to play. The Mustangs charged right back, though, reeling off a 9-1 run in a 2:39 window to go up 47-34 while holding the Hawks scoreless for over four minutes. Bernard Ireland (Victorville, CA) ignited the burst with a three-pointer, Derrick Fain (Dallas, TX) followed with a triple of his own, and Ireland capped it off with a trio of free throws after being fouled behind the arc.
But, the Hawks weren’t about to go away just yet. They answered with five straight points, cutting the deficit to 47-39 at the 11:11 mark.
Just as quickly, though, the momentum shifted back to the Mustangs who tore off six consecutive points, highlighted by a Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC) tomahawk dunk and a Zach Stalin (Bellingham, WA) trifecta.
The Hawks countered with four straight points to stay within striking distance at 53-43 with just nine minutes remaining. This, though, was where the Mustangs made their final defensive stand and it proved to be decisive, holding the Hawks to 1-11 from the field and just two points the rest of the way.
The Mustangs weren’t exactly lighting it up but their defense gave them several opportunities over the final seven minutes and they took advantage of just enough of them to close out the win. Fueled by a Dominique Lanier (Lakewood, CA) free throw, the Mustangs ran off six points in a row to take a 59-43 lead with just under five minutes left to play. It was their largest lead of the game and one that would be matched by the final score.
Chris Patureau (Houston, TX) finished off the run with a jumper and when he scored on a layup with 4:14 left to play, the game’s final points were posted. Incredibly, neither team scored the rest of the way.
A Patureau tip-in at the first-half buzzer gave the Mustangs their eight-point halftime cushion, completing a sparkling 20 minutes of shooting that contrasted with what would take place in the second half.
That buzzer-beater bookended a strong first half for the junior who opened the game’s scoring with a jumper 10 seconds into play and wound up with nine points in the opening stanza.
The Hawks took their only lead of the game at 4-3 on a Michael Lambert tip-in before a Korey Anderson (Clovis, CA) layup and a Lanier trey gave the Mustangs the lead for good.
No more than five points separated the clubs during the first eight minutes until a Reid Shackelford (Murrieta, CA) triple, the second of two in a row, created some space and sent the Mustangs on a long run. It ignited a 12-0 burst over the next 4:30 that expanded the advantage to 26-11. A driving layup by Lanier finished things off.
It didn’t finish off the Hawks just yet, though. They scored seven of the game’s next nine points, cutting the lead to 28-18 on a Lambert jumper with 5:11 left in the half. After Stalin scored on a layup with 2:58 left to make it 32-20, the Hawks used a pair of three-pointers to spark a 10-4 skein that pulled them within 36-30 prior to Patureau’s half-ending putback.
The Mustangs shot 59% from the field in the first half.
Patureau’s team-high 13 points were earned on 6-7 shooting from the field and he also pulled down six rebounds. Ireland tallied nine points while Lanier, who had team-highs with five assists and four steals, Shackelford, and Logan chipped in with eight apiece. Anderson scored just four points but he was all over the boards, pulling down a career-high 14 rebounds as the Mustangs held a 38-29 advantage in that category.
Next up for the Mustangs is a return match with front-running and ninth-ranked Vanguard on Tuesday evening in Costa Mesa. The Lions, who beat the Mustangs 77-56 on February 4, hold a two-game lead in the GSAC.