Master’s men’s basketball coach Kelvin Starr didn’t need to tell his team that a win Saturday over Arizona Christian would likely mean a No. 1 ranking in the NAIA Division 1 top 25 next week.
“They were all aware of it,” Starr said.
The ranking will be decided Tuesday. The game was decided on several key Master’s defensive stops on a night it didn’t shoot particularly well.
The No. 2 Mustangs held Arizona Christian to nine points over the final nine minutes in a 78-66 home win, their 24th straight victory.
Master’s is now 25-1 overall, 11-0 in Golden State Athletic play, and in position to move up to No. 1 in the country after top-ranked William Penn lost on Feb. 3.
“I think we’re confident on the defensive side,” said senior guard Lawrence Russell (pictured above), whose parents flew into town to watch him play his final home game as a Mustang. “If we’re not getting shots to fall, we know we can dictate how we play on the defensive end.”
Russell scored a game-high 18 points with eight rebounds. He was the only player honored in a pregame ceremony, but not the only one who contributed.
Junior Delewis Johnson chipped in 17 points and nine rebounds, 14 of those points coming before halftime, when TMU led 45-37.
The Mustangs shot just 29% after the break, but that’s when Hansel Atencia made three of his four steals. Russell finished with five steals, and the Mustangs held ACU to 6-of-21 shooting from behind the arc.
Master’s made just 5-of-23 threes, but it made its money in the paint when the chips were down. After ACU cut the lead to six with nine minutes left, Johnson powered inside for a three-point play. Then Tim Soares flushed a dunk, and Darryl McDowell-White laid in an alley-oop off a pass from Johnson to up the lead to 11.
Arizona never got closer than nine the rest of the way.
“We just had to guard,” said Atencia, who tallied 14 points and three assists. “We did a good job at that, and that’s why we won.”
Here’s the box score.
Master’s is off now until Feb. 17 when it travels to Santa Barbara to take on No. 16 Westmont. The Mustangs beat the Warriors 74-71 at TMU back on Jan. 20.
What would carrying a No. 1 ranking into that game mean to the Mustangs?
“It’d be a great honor,” Russell said.