Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
Brock Gardner said it was a December loss at San Diego Christian that spurred the Mustangs to a dominant opening act on Saturday.
Hansel Atencia pointed to the way Master’s had finished against Hope International on Thursday, overcoming a 19-point deficit in the second half, as motivation for the fast start.
“We didn’t want to start that way again,” the point guard said.
Whatever it was, the Mustangs owned the first 10 minutes against San Diego Christian on the way to a 79-69 win inside The MacArthur Center.
The victory was TMU’s 35th straight at home. And coupled with a Vanguard loss at Westmont on Saturday, the Mustangs (21-5, 10-4 in GSAC) moved within a half-game of first place in the Golden State Athletic Conference with four to go.
They did it, in part, by running out to an 18-2 lead after six and half minutes, Keegan Scott capping the run by splashing a three-pointer from the corner.
Five different Mustangs scored during the span and San Diego Christian missed nine of its first 10 shots. By the 7:26 mark, Master’s had built a 32-14 lead.
TMU coach Kelvin Starr knew it was unreasonable to expect that level of play for the rest of the night.
“That’s what I told the guys at halftime, I said look, ‘For the first ten minutes, you were elite: elite defensively, we were energetic, moving the ball, running the floor, all the things we’re good at,'” Starr said. “For the next 10 minutes, we didn’t play terrible, we just took a step back. And when we do that, we’re not as good defensively, which doesn’t allow us to break out and get easy stuff.”
San Diego cut the deficit to 11 by halftime and to single digits on multiple occasions from there, exploiting defensive breakdowns for unhindered trips to the paint and open three-pointers.
The Hawks came within four on a Derek Novsek three with 10:25 to play. But Master’s answered with a 10-0 run, capped when Hansel Atencia fed Brock Gardner for a transition dunk with 6:34 on the clock.
TMU’s lead never dipped below 10 again.
“We got the stops and executed when we needed to,” said Gardner, who finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds, one of two double-doubles for the Mustangs.
Atencia dished out 11 assists to go with 12 points, while Delewis Johnson scored a game-high 24 points. Johnson did it on 10-of-16 shooting, regularly getting to the rim.
“When DJ plays downhill, it usually means good things for us,” said Gardner.
Gardner said he felt “amped” during warmups. He didn’t want what happened in San Diego – an 82-80 TMU loss – to happen again.
It didn’t. And a big reason was the defensive work of Johnson on Novsek in the first half.
Novsek, who entered the night as the conference’s second leading scorer at 21 points a night, went for 27 points in the teams’ first meeting.
Saturday, Johnson and others held the sharpshooter without a basket before intermission.
Novsek finished with 13 points on 4-of-13 shooting.
“DJ was phenomenal on Derek,” Starr said.