Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
Brock Gardner cradled the ball outside the three-point line in a gym only miles from where he played high school basketball. The 6-foot-7 junior looked to the left and to the right and as if deciding he was the best option, which on this day he almost always was, he went to work.
Gardner attacked his man, made a subtle shoulder fake and broke free near the rim, laying the ball in for his 27th and 28th points. It was a career high and it finally brought the Mustangs in front of upset-minded Arizona Christian, which had led by as many as 12.
Gardner’s bucket with 8:43 to play gave the No. 1-ranked Mustangs their first lead in more than 20 minutes and helped produced a 100-93 win at Fultz Memorial Gym in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gardner, a product of Chandler, Arizona, finished with a game-high 31 points and 13 rebounds. Hansel Atencia followed with 28 points, his 17-foot turnaround jumper pushing the Mustangs in front by five with two minutes to go.
And Master’s (8-1, 2-0 GSAC) finally strung a few stops together to secure its eighth straight win and fifth straight against the Firestorm (7-1, 1-1), who entered the day with an unbeaten record.
By halftime, it looked like Arizona Christian might make a resounding statement on the first weekend of Golden State Athletic Conference play.
With 54 seconds on the clock, Terence Shelby danced with the ball outside the three-point line before stepping back for a fadeaway over Gardner’s outstretched arm. The shot splashed through the net, and ACU had built its biggest lead of the first half, 50-38.
Arizona hit 9-of-17 three-point attempts before intermission and led 52-41 heading to the locker room.
The Mustangs last lost to the Firestorm on Feb. 6, 2016, in Phoenix, a game when ACU held the Mustangs to 62 points. No such ceiling existed Saturday.
Master’s had Gardner to thank.
“He was the only one making shots in the first half,” Atencia said. “He did it in the second half too, taking it strong to the rim and rebounding. He played how he plays.”
Nearly a year ago to the day, Gardner scored a career-high 27 points against Pacific Union on Dec. 2, 2017.
Master’s needed a similar performance on a day it struggled to keep the Firestorm off the offensive glass. By the midpoint of the second half, ACU had pulled down eight offensive rebounds and turned in 14 second-chance points.
Some were more costly than others.
With 15 minutes to play, the Mustangs had cut the deficit to four, and Shelby missed a three-point try. But Emilio Acedo grabbed the rebound and found Callum Lawson in the corner for a 3-pointer.
The Mustangs answered by running the offense through Gardner, who hit 12-of-21 shots, 4-of-9 from three.
Atencia said the Mustangs teased Gardner that this was “Arizona Brock.”
“Every time we come here, we know he’s going to play well in front of his friends,” Atencia said. “And he showed out again today.”
Gardner hasn’t only played well in his home state this season. In his last seven games, he has scored at least 14 points each time, with three double-doubles.
Gardner’s team drew even with ACU with 10 minutes to play, Tim Soares batting an offensive rebound into the hands of Jordan Starr, who hit a floater to make it 69-69.
Then Master’s went on a 10-3 run over the next three minutes, Atencia grabbing a rebound and going coast-to-coast to force ACU to take a timeout with 6:50 to play.
But Master’s settled for back-to-back bad shots, and Arizona forced its way back into the game, tying the score at 79-all.
Then it was Gardner’s turn again, making a crisp basket cut and finishing a Soares bounce pass to make it 85-82, Master’s.
After ACU cut the lead to four with 1:33 to play, Atencia euro-stepped deep into the paint and spun the ball off the glass for a six-point advantage.
Here’s the box score.