In the grand scheme of what’s hoped, even expected, to be a banner season, Friday night’s game at UC Merced likely won’t be a memorable one for The Master’s University.
TMU men’s basketball started slow, trailed late in the first half and surged ahead for an 82-56 win in the first game of a grueling two-game bus trip.
Master’s (7-1) trekked 245 miles Friday up to Merced, where Lawrence Russell led the Mustangs with 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting. He added eight rebounds.
Center Tim Soares followed with 19 points and seven boards. Brock Gardner and Delewis Johnson each added 11 points in what was an offensive struggle before halftime.
The Mustangs shot 39 percent in the first half, holding a 31-26 lead at the break.
“I told them we were fine,” Coach Kelvin Starr said. “We just needed to keep the intensity level high. We shot 0-for-10 on 3-pointers, and were still up.”
In other words: The cold streak couldn’t possibly hold. It didn’t.
Master’s outscored the Bobcats 24-8 over the first 11 minutes of the second half, made 63 percent of its shots the rest of the way and stayed out of any real danger of losing for the second time this season.
Statistically speaking, the Mustangs have been one of the nation’s most dominant and complete teams over the first month of 2017. They score the ball at a high clip, they defend with ferocity.
They pass and rebound and run.
More specifically, TMU entered Friday seventh in NAIA Division 1 in scoring defense (65.143 points allowed per game) and ninth in scoring offense (97.286 points a game).
Friday was more slog than soar. But Soares continued to deliver. The emergence of the 6-foot-10 sophomore center as a more consistent offensive presence has made the Mustangs all the more difficult to deal with.
Soares entered Friday fifth in the country with a 68 percent field goal percentage. He was averaging 14.7 points and 8.3 boards per game. He built on those numbers against the Bobcats, making eight of his 14 attempts from the field. He knocked down the only triple he attempted.
Before Friday, TMU had beaten Merced four times in the last five seasons (the teams didn’t play in 2015-16). Last season, Master’s won, 78-72, at TMU on the strength of Russell’s 21 points and 11 rebounds and the 18-point outings produced by Johnson and Hansel Atencia. Soares was limited to six points on five shots in 13 minutes.
On Wednesday, the Bobcats lost 73-57 to Golden State Athletic Conference member William Jessup. Merced beat GSAC member San Diego Christian 79-64 earlier in the year. Where the Bobcats have been most competitive has been on the defensive end of the floor. They allowed an average of 71.5 points a game entering Friday, the 28th fewest in the NAIA Division 2.
Here’s the box score.
TMU dealt with that stingy unit Friday. Then they prepped to drive another 168 miles north to Angwin, west of Sacramento, to take on Pacific Union on Saturday.