Lawrence Russell scored a game-high 22 points and Tim Soares notched a double-double as The Master’s University played its most complete game of the season to date in a 93-72 victory over Vanguard before a raucous crowd at Bross Court.
Scoring the most points in a month and winning for the third time in a row and the second straight in GSAC play, the Mustangs improved to 14-3 overall and 3-3 in the conference.
Following the game, head coach Kelvin Starr praised his assistant, Troy Leaf, and his team, saying, “Coach Leaf did a tremendous job with the scouting report for this one. The guys executed the game plan and played with great intensity.”
That execution was on display early as the Mustangs hit the Lions with a quick, 7-0 burst in the first 2 1/2 minutes. Russell sparked the offense with a jumper, Soares followed with another jumper in the paint, and Travis Yenor capped it with a long-range bomb.
Another Yenor trifecta with 12:21 left in the first half pushed the advantage (23-13) into double digits and was part of a 13-0 run that eventually produced a 31-13 lead at the 10:58 mark. Once again, Russell was the initiator with a layup, Yenor added another trey, Hansel Atencia joined him from long range, and Delewis Johnson finished the skein with a layup.
The Lions never fully recovered although they closed the gap to 35-25 at the 3:53 mark, using a 9-0 burst to get within shouting distance. Another Russell jumper put an end to that and when Evan Jenkins drained a three-pointer from the left corner with 2:46 left in the half, the lead was back to 15 (40-25).
Punctuating a 12-point, six-rebound first half, Soares dunked one home at the buzzer to send the Mustangs to halftime with a 46-33 lead. Soares was perfect (6-6) from the field over the opening 20 minutes while Russell was just behind (5-6) his teammate as the Mustangs converted at a crisp 61% (19-31) while limiting the Lions to 39% accuracy.
There was plenty more offense left in the Mustang arsenal for the final stanza and they let it rip, especially over the final eight minutes. Layups from Russell and Jenkins in the opening 45 seconds extended the margin to 15 points and Yenor canned another three for a 53-35 advantage just over a minute into the second half.
The Lions spent the next eight minutes trying to get back into the game and the Mustangs responded time and again. When Vanguard closed to 55-44 at the 15:28 mark, Soares and Jenkins answered with consecutive layups. Vanguard made it a 10-point (63-53) game with 10:43 remaining and then watched Russell, Jenkins, and Johnson combine for seven points to extend the margin to 15 (70-55) with 8:58 left to play.
Vanguard’s last gasp came on a Shacquille Dawkins’ three-pointer 14 seconds later. Again, the Mustangs answered, this time with a decisive, 8-0 spurt that pushed the advantage to 20 points (78-58). Johnson scored six of those eight points, including a layup that capped things off with 6:31 remaining.
The Lions never got closer than 17 points the rest of the way as the Mustangs kept the pedal to the metal in the wire-to-wire win. The Mustangs enjoyed their largest lead (23 points) of the evening twice in the final two minutes.
The Mustangs followed a strong, first-half shooting performance with an even better one over the final 20 minutes, hitting at a 65% (17-26) clip and finishing the game at a season-best 63%.
Russell’s game-high total was forged on 8-11 shooting from the field and spotless (6-6) accuracy from the stripe. He just missed his 10th double-double of the season after grabbing nine rebounds.
On the other hand, Soares earned his first career double-double, posting career-highs of 17 points (8-8 from the field) and 16 rebounds. After the game, Starr described his freshman center as a “monster on the boards.”
Johnson enjoyed a perfect night from the field (8-8), too, on the way to 19 points while Yenor scored all 12 of his points from long range, going 4-5 from behind the arc.
Taking a cue from their coach, the Mustangs will enjoy this win for a few hours before resuming practice tomorrow ahead of Thursday’s big rematch at Westmont. The Mustangs dropped an 84-78, double-overtime heartbreaker to the then-No. 9 Warriors on December 7. Westmont is now No. 5 and sits atop the GSAC with a 5-1 record (16-2 overall).