Santa Clarita, CA -- On the verge of becoming a non-factor in the waning weeks of GSAC regular-season play, The Master's College turned things around Tuesday evening with one of its best efforts of the season, gutting out a 76-67 upset of No. 13 Concordia before a partisan crowd at Bross Court.
The win was only the Mustangs' second in their last seven games and improved their record to 3-6 in conference play and 15-9 overall. Although the club is still sharing last place with Hope International, the win pulled it within two games of second-place Concordia and Biola.
If there was a ever a must-win in the 2013-14 campaign, this was it and the Mustangs came out with an urgency that had been lacking over the past two weeks. A Derrick Fain (Dallas, TX) three-pointer 1:27 into play gave the Mustangs a lead they would hold onto for almost seven minutes.
A Bernard Ireland (Victorville, CA) triple almost four minutes later (15:45) keyed a 7-0 skein that extended the advantage to 15-7. However, that margin was slowly erased over the next four minutes as the Eagles used a 12-3 burst to take their first lead of the evening, 19-18, with 11:56 left in the half and then moved further ahead at 24-19 at the 10:33 mark.
Sensing that the game was getting away from them, the Mustangs surged back, keyed by a Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC) three-point play that started a 9-0 run, vaulting the club back in front, 30-26 at the 5:51 mark. A pair of Dominique Lanier (Lakewood, CA) charity tosses capped the skein that also included consecutive hoops by Korey Anderson (Clovis, CA).
The Eagles drew even at 34-all on a dunk by Kiefer Douse with 3:44 remaining, setting up a back-and-forth pattern leading up to halftime where the visitors led 40-39.
Both clubs shot well over the opening 20 minutes with Concordia converting 50% of its shots while the Mustangs were even better, hitting at a 65% (15-23) clip.
That late first-half, see-saw effect lasted into the first ten minutes of the second stanza with no more than four points separating the clubs. The Mustangs enjoyed a four-point (46-42) edge on an Ireland layup at the 18:32 mark while the Eagles used a 4-0 skein to claim a 52-49 lead with 12:20 left in the game.
The first signs of one club breaking away appeared midway through the closing stanza when Lanier sparked a 7-0 run with two free throws and then followed that with a layup before Logan finished it off with a spectacular reverse dunk off a precise, alley-oop pass from Reid Shackelford (Murrieta, CA).
That produced a 60-53 lead and the Mustangs never trailed again, although the Eagles made several late attempts to steal the game away. Down 66-59 with just under five minutes left to play, the Eagles held the Mustangs to a single point over the next three minutes while scoring six themselves to pull within 67-65 with 1:42 left on the clock.
However, the nation's 13th-ranked squad just couldn't catch the upstart Mustangs, who played terrific defense down the stretch and put the game away at the free throw line. The Eagles hit just one of their final six shots and the Mustangs went 9-10 from the line in the final 90 seconds to insure the victory.
The Mustangs wound up 21-27 from the stripe while the Eagles converted just 6-10. More importantly, the Mustangs just shot the ball well from the field all evening. After that sparkling first-half display, the Mustangs went 10-19 (53%) in the second stanza and finished off their best shooting night of the season at 59.5%. That shut-down defense in the game's final minutes showed up in Concordia's poor shooting performance, the Eagles hitting just 41% of their shots.
Fain led all scorers and a trio of Mustangs in double figures with 18 points, going 3-5 from behind the arc and 5-5 from the line. Anderson was a strong inside presence yet again, tossing in 16 points and yanking down a team-high nine rebounds. Lanier had a brilliant all-around game, pouring in 15 points, taking down seven rebounds, and dishing out a game-high six assists.
The Mustangs will look to make it two in a row on Saturday evening when they venture to La Mirada to take on No. 22 Biola, a team that beat them 80-66 on January 25.