Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
COSTA MESA — Shortly before Tuesday’s practice, Tim Soares bent his 6-foot-10 frame into a crouched stretching position along the baseline in The MacArthur Center and addressed the challenge awaiting TMU in Costa Mesa.
In contrast to his pose, Soares knew the game would be anything but relaxing.
Still, he said the Mustangs were looking forward to facing the Golden State Athletic Conference’s top defense and a Vanguard team that had lost once in 18 games.
“They play really hard. Everything you do against them needs to be with force,” he said.
In the end, it was the Lions who imposed their will in Thursday’s highly-anticipated matchup of NAIA top 10 teams.
No. 9 Vanguard forced 18 turnovers, made 13 threes and led by as many as 18 on the way to an 82-75 win.
The No. 5-ranked Mustangs cut the deficit to six in the closing minutes, but never came closer.
The loss snapped TMU’s eight-game winning streak and gave the Lions (18-1, 6-1 GSAC) their first win in the series since Feb. 16, 2016. It also dropped Master’s into second place in the Golden State Athletic Conference.
The Mustangs (16-3, 5-2) will look to rebound Saturday at home against Life Pacific.
“The GSAC is tough,” said TMU coach Kelvin Starr. “You have to be ready to go on the road.”
Hansel Atencia led Master’s with 29 points on 10-of-22 shooting. Tim Soares followed with 15 points and 13 rebounds.
At one point, Atencia hurtled downcourt and into a crowded paint, Eurostepping past one defender and spinning an impossible layup off the glass and in.
Even still, with 11:30 remaining in regulation, the degree of difficulty facing a Mustang comeback might have been steeper. Master’s trailed by 14 and the deficit would soon grow.
The Mustangs did have one final rally in them. “Our guys competed,” Kelvin Starr said. “It could have been a lot uglier.”
Jordan Starr’s three with 2:30 remaining brought Master’s within 11. And Tim Soares’ And-1 dunk moments later dropped Vanguard’s lead to eight.
But the Lions did enough at the free throw line to seal their 18th win of the year.
All along, Vanguard’s calling card has been defense.
In addition to leading the GSAC in scoring defense (66.7 points per game), the Lions were eighth in the country in that category entering Thursday.
A big reason? Vanguard was second-best nationally at defending the three.
By halftime, Master’s had learned the hard way. The Mustangs made 2-of-9 tries from distance and they didn’t fare any better as the night wore on.
Vanguard, however, connected on 8-of-18 three-pointers over the first 20 minutes, with four Lions scoring at least eight points.
Vanguard led 46-37 at half.
“We didn’t make it tough enough on them to score,” Atencia said. “The defensive end wasn’t good for us. We got tired.”
Deven Riley finished with 16 points. Malachi Hoosein chipped in 13.
Darryl McDowell-White, Brock Gardner and Jordan Starr each finished with 10 points for Master’s.