No. 16 Arizona Christian University finished off the Notre Dame De Namur Thanksgiving Classic in fashion Saturday night, as the Firestorm kept their unbeaten streak alive defeating the Argos 66-58.
Notre Dame De Namur belongs to the Pacific West Conference (NCAA Div. II) and the loss brings them to 1-5 on the season. With the win, Arizona Christian improves its winning streak to 8-0 and has defeated two NCAA Div. II schools in back-to-back nights (11/29 Holy Names University, 72-59).
"Once again, we were able to get stops when we needed to tonight," said head coach Jeff Rutter. "We were struggling on the offensive end and I wanted us to be more aggressive, but our defense and rebounding carried us tonight. Jordan Block came in and really gave us a lift and created some offense for us."
Both teams struggled to produce any offense in the first half as the Firestorm shot a low 30.8 percent from the floor, while holding the Argos to just an 18.5 shooting percentage. Notre Dame de Namur would jump out to an early lead in the first four minutes of the game at 4-0, but Mateus Oliveira would tie the game at 4-4 after knocking in his second free throw. The Firestorm would never give up the lead the rest of the first half, even though the Argos would tie the score three times. From 13:53 to 10:04 both teams would be held scoreless with poor shooting and a plethora of turnovers. In fact, the Argos got after the Firestorm forcing eight turnovers and recording five steals. Arizona Christian held the Argos to just 17 points in the first half with a nine point lead (26-17).
"Notre Dame played very hard and they did a good job of dictating the tempo," said Rutter. "That was a hard fought win. Although our play has been ugly, we have talked a lot about what needs to happen to win games on the road and we are doing those things. When our offense catches up with our defense, we have a chance to be a pretty good team.
Arizona Christian's bench had yet another big night as Jordan Block and Mason Jones both finished with 12 points each. Block played 22 minutes on the night and played excellent in the second half with nine points and five rebounds, three of which came on the offensive end. Jones was dangerous again from beyond the arc going 2-for-2 in the second half and 3-for-5 on the night, while adding two rebounds and one assist.
In the second half, both teams put their first half woes behind them as the Firestorm led the charge increasing their lead to 11 (34-23). The Argos responded quickly going on a 6-0 run to bring them within five, but Jones would respond for Arizona Christian knocking down a huge three-pointer with 13:24 left in the game. The home team would continue to knock at the door bringing the score within one point at 54-53 with just three minutes left, but that would be the closest the Argos would get to the Firestorm lead.
"This was our 5th game in 8 days and I think that showed tonight," mentioned Rutter. "We have some much needed time off to focus on getting better. I'm excited for practice this week."
Arizona Christian's Talib Uqdah played 34 minutes and finished with 15 points going a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Oliveira had another solid performance finishing with six points, five rebounds, and a career-high five blocks.
Arizona Christian out-rebounded the Argos 44 to 32 and both teams finished the night shooting 36.0 percent from the field.
Uqdah finished the tournament with 35 points, eight assists, and four rebounds as he earned the tournament MVP award.
Notre Dame de Namur THANKSGIVING CLASSIC ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
- Talib Uqdah - Arizona Christian (MVP)
- Simon Enciso - Notre Dame de Namur
- Micah Dunhour - Notre Dame de Namur
- Wyatt Polk - Caldwell
- Harold Perry Jr. - Holy Names
Arizona Christian will enjoy a healthy two week break before they host Spring Arbor (Mich.) in the Arizona Christian Classic on Dec. 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the Fultz Memorial Gymnasium.