The Master’s University men’s basketball team continued on what is now a historic postseason run Saturday evening, beating No. 2 seed Biola, the NAIA’s seventh-ranked team, 83-68 in a GSAC Tournament semifinal game on the campus of Westmont College in Santa Barbara.
Saturday’s victory improved No. 14 TMU’s overall record to 25-4 and advanced the third-seeded Mustangs to Tuesday’s GSAC Tournament championship game where they’ll play fifth-ranked Hope International, the tournament’s No. 1 seed, on the Royals’ home floor in Fullerton. Notably, Tuesday will mark TMU’s first-ever appearance in the GSAC Tournament final.
“Our guys did an unbelievable job following our defensive game plan, and did enough offensively to beat a very good Biola team,” commented first-year TMU head coach Kelvin Starr.
The first half of Saturday’s semifinal proved to be a dogfight with seven lead changes times and six ties. Freshman standout Travis Yenor forced the Eagles to play catch-up for the entire first half, tallying a team-leading 13 points over the opening 20 minutes.
At the break, TMU narrowly led the Eagles 32-30 after going 10-26 (38.5%) from the field, 4-12 (33.3%) from behind the arc, and 8-9 from the charity stripe.
After halftime, things remained close for the opening three minutes until Reid Shackelford drained a free throw at the 17:39 mark that put the Mustangs up for good. From there, the Mustangs never let the Eagles regain the lead for the rest of the evening and even enjoyed an game-high 17-point lead on two separate occasions en route to their 25th victory of the season.
Yenor and fellow freshman Timothy Soares both posted a game-high 20 points, Lawrence Russell scored 18 points, and Shackelford threw in 15 more. Soares also grabbed 12 rebounds, marking his fourth double-double of the season and blocked eight blocks while Russell dished out a game-high four assists.
As a team, TMU went 22-46 (47%) from the field, 10-20 (50%) on three-pointers, and a staggering 29-33 (87%) on free throws.
Now, the Mustangs turn their attention to a Hope International squad that has beaten them twice this season. On January 7, the Mustangs fell to the Royals 88-56 on Bross Court. Then, on February 9, the team fell to HIU 82-72 in Fullerton.
Following the game, Starr said his team was ready to take on Hope, saying, “We are very excited to play the No. 1-ranked team in the GSAC. It should be a great atmosphere Tuesday night.”
The tournament title game will be televised by Fox Sports West and Fox College Sports starting at 8 p.m. Tickets for Tuesday’s Championships are $10 for General Admission and $5 for students. The Master’s University women’s team will also play in their championship game at 5 p.m. immediately preceding the men’s game. Admission is valid for both games.