Game Recap By Mason Nesbitt, TMU Sports Information Director
Members of The Master’s University men’s basketball team are quick to clarify: Winning the first Golden State Athletic Conference regular season title in program history last season was far from easy.
But, this year the task felt considerably harder, they say, and Saturday’s 11-point first-half deficit was only the latest hurdle.
The Mustangs lost on the road at San Diego Christian, they lost back-to-back games for the first time in two years, they fell flat at Vanguard in mid-January.
Still, Master’s climbed back into first place, and Saturday it beat Vanguard 78-64 at TMU to claim at least a share of the GSAC title, becoming the first program to repeat as regular season champs since Concordia won three straight crowns from 2009-2012.
The No. 10-ranked Mustangs (24-5, 13-4 GSAC) and No. 6 Vanguard (24-5, 12-5) entered the night in a tie atop GSAC standings. Master’s can claim the title outright with a home win over Hope International on Thursday.
“This time it forced all of us to grow up,” said Darryl McDowell-White, who finished with a team-high 18 points. “I feel like last year things did come a bit easier and winning was expected and we kind of took it for granted at times. This year, we had to fight through adversity.”
Saturday, the Mustangs turned a 21-10 deficit around the 10-minute mark into a 10-point lead nine minutes later, Hansel Atencia feeding Delewis Johnson for a layup in transition to cap the 26-5 run.
Master’s (24-5, 13-4 GSAC) led by seven at halftime and by as many as 17 later in the game.
The win was the Mustangs’ 36th straight home victory, a streak they will look to extend Thursday against Hope International.
“We want to win it outright,” said coach Kelvin Starr.
Johnson, who scored 14 points Saturday, said it was TMU’s first meeting with Hope, in Fullerton on Feb. 7, that provided the season’s turning point.
Master’s was coming off losses at Menlo College and William Jessup, the team’s first two-game skid since January 2017, and it fell behind by 19 in the second half at Hope.
“When we won that game, I feel like that’s when we all turned the corner,” said Johnson. “Coach has been preaching selflessness, and obviously we’re a talented group, so everyone has their individual ability and it’s tough to mesh sometimes. Then we figured out we have to play as a team, and we let go of the individual stats and stopped worrying about individual awards.”
Those will likely come, too.
TMU’s Tim Soares finished with 15 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Brock Gardner had nine points, 10 rebounds and five blocks. And Hansel Atencia scored 12 points to go with four assists.
Early on, the Mustangs settled for jump shots early in the shot clock. Many didn’t fall.
Still, they went into the locker room in an unfamiliar position.
“Coach said, ‘Look at the scoreboard. For once, we’re up at halftime,'” McDowell-White said. “The other thing he said was, ‘Keep your hand up. They can shoot, and if we can keep them quiet on that end we’ll be OK.'”
Vanguard made 13-of-33 three-pointers in the teams’ first meeting, an 82-75 Lions win.
This time, Master’s held Vanguard to 8-of-29 from behind the arc.
McDowell-White made 4-of-7 three-point tries, the last of which spotting TMU a 12-point lead with 3:45 remaining.
The junior guard said a key to TMU’s inspired play down the stretch this season – the Mustangs have won five in a row, three of which on the road – has been a keen sense of urgency.
“We have all the talent and all the skills,” he said. “But as soon as we’re urgent and aggressive, we make things happen on our terms.”
Here’s the box score.