PHOENIX, Ariz. --- No. 7 Arizona Christian University hosted No. 25-ranked Hope International in the Firestorm's first home conference game Tuesday night, as ACU redeemed itself in a nail-biting 65-64 victory.
The Royals entered tonight's game undefeated in the Golden State Athletic Conference after beating the Master's College (74-65) and Concordia University (66-64).
With the win, ACU improves its overall record to 15-3 and earns its first win in the GSAC (1-2). Meanwhile, the Royals fall to 13-4 and are handed their first loss in the GSAC (2-1).
"That was a great win against a very good Hope team," said Head Coach Jeff Rutter. "Wins in the GSAC are very difficult to come by. Ugly or not, we will take it."
Both teams got off to a slow start in the opening minutes, as the first basket wasn't recorded until 17:51 when Royal' Austin Sanford made a jumper. After the ice was broken, both teams traded points back in forth for the next eight minutes until ACU went on a 6-0 run to take its largest lead of the half, 29-19.
ACU held the Royals to 35.7 percent shooting, while posting a blazing 50 percent shooting from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc. Neither team would have a player in double digits going into the break, but ACU's Mason Jones made the biggest impact going 3-for-4 from the field and 2-for-3 from the 3-point line to end the half with 8 points.
"We got better tonight," mentioned Rutter. "We got defensive stops when we needed them and had some guys step up and make some big plays. Mason was big for us tonight. He made some shots and started a pretty good run for us in the first half."
In the start of the second, ACU would see its fourth tie of the game after a 10-5 run put on by the Royals. Six minutes later HIU would take its first lead of the second half after GSAC player of the week Garrett Neilan made a fast break layup. ACU's Mason Jones responded on the next possession with his third 3-pointer of the game to tie the score for a fifth time, 52-52.
Jones' hot hand would continue a minute later when he would hit his fourth and final three of the game to give the Firestorm a six-point edge at the 6:54 mark, 58-52.
The Royals continued to put the pressure on the Firestorm tying the game on three separate occasions in the last four minutes. The final tie would come with 1:50 left on the clock after Neilan would make the pair on the free throw line, 63-63. ACU's Talib Uqdah would have the final say for the Firestorm knocking down a jumper with 35 seconds on the clock.
The Royals would have a chance to tie the game on the charity stripe after a loose ball foul in the final seconds, but couldn't overcome the noise of the Firestorm crowd going 1-for-2.
Jones led the Firestorm on the night finishing with 14 points in 17 minutes of play. Uqdah was shortly behind with 13 points and Jackson Helms finished with 10.
"When we do the little things like defend, rebound, and play really hard, we are a pretty good basketball team," said Rutter. "We need to continue to strive to be consistent in those areas. You expect seniors to step up and make big shots and that's what Talib did. It wasn't his best shooting game, but he made two huge shots when we needed it. He is as good as there is in the NAIA. He can impact the game in so many ways and is very unselfish."
ACU will continue its home stint when it hosts the No. 20-ranked Vanguard Lions on Jan. 25 at 4 p.m. The Lions are the only team in the GSAC undefeated at 3-0 in conference with a 16-2 overall record.