By Mason Nesbitt, Sports Information Director
When The Master’s University arrived in Phoenix on Thursday, its defensive intensity wasn’t waiting at baggage claim. In fact, it was a no-show until halftime at Arizona Christian University, where the No. 5 Mustangs stormed into the final 20 minutes and claimed an 89-76 win over the No. 23 Firestorm.
It was TMU’s 16th straight victory, the program’s longest streak since at least 2003-2004. This one was a matter of focus.
“I think we locked up on defense (after the break),” said center Tim Soares, who finished with 19 points, 19 rebounds and three blocks. “We weren’t doing a good job in the first half. We were letting them get by us.”
Apparently by halftime, Soares and TMU (17-1, 3-0 Golden State Athletic Conference) had had enough.
Master’s opened the second frame on a 19-2 run. Senior Lawrence Russell scored 11 of his team-high 21 points during the streak, drilling two 3-pointers and building on Saturday’s heroics.
Russell scored a career-high 32 points in a 97-89 win over No. 22 William Jessup at TMU on Saturday, winning GSAC Player of the Week in the process.
Thursday, he picked up four steals to key a Mustang defense that came alive after the break.
Master’s held Arizona Christian (12-4, 0-2) to 34 percent shooting from the field and 20% (6-of-29) from three for the game. It was a statement coming against a team that entered the night making half its shots for the year and averaging 92 points a night.
“(The key was) defensive intensity,” Russell said. “And we just kept attacking them on the offensive side.”
Hansel Atencia scored 19 points for Master’s, while teammate Delewis Johnson followed with 16 points and nine rebounds.
Brock Gardner scored eight of his nine points after halftime for TMU, which flew to San Diego on Friday morning before playing San Diego Christian on Saturday.
The hope will be to start faster than Thursday, when the Mustangs led only 43-39 at the break.
“He was pretty chill,” Soares said of coach Kelvin Starr’s halftime demeanor. “He wanted to make sure we all locked in on defense and not let their main players get good looks.”
Apparently, whatever was said worked.
“We were more attentive to the personnel we were guarding,” Soares said. “We were making sure we knew where everyone was.”
The Mustangs built a 25-point lead at the 8:53 mark of the second half before ACU went on a small run to set the final score.
Torrian Epps led ACU with 25 points. Sam Finley added 19 points.