La Mirada, CA -- Maybe this is the year when The Master's College reverses the history of recent campaigns, finishing strong in the thick of the conference race rather than fading down the stretch after a fast start.
They took another step in that direction Saturday evening, leading from start to finish in a 79-74 beating of No. 22 Biola, avenging a 14-point loss to the Eagles on Bross Court three weeks ago.
After losing five of six games in a recent 18-day stretch, the Mustangs (16-9 overall, 4-6 GSAC) have now won two in a row for the first time in conference play and are in a four-way logjam for fifth place (or last place, depending on how you look at it), trailing three 5-5 teams by a game, and second-place Concordia by two games with four contests left.
The Mustangs sent an early message from long range, connecting on a trio of three-pointers in the game's first four minutes to go in front 9-5. Dominique Lanier (Lakewood, CA) sparked the barrage with a pair of trifectas and Bernard Ireland (Victorville, CA) finished it from behind the arc.
After Biola drew within 18-15 with just over 10 minutes left in the half, the Mustangs went back to what was true and tested, capping off a 12-0 run with triples from Travis Divita (Canyon Country, CA) and Reid Shackelford (Murrieta, CA), and a layup from Zach Stalin (Bellingham, WA) to vault ahead by a half-high 15 points. Shackelford and Divita had sparked the skein with consecutive layups.
For good measure, Shackelford sank the club's seventh three-pointer of the half with 3:51 left on the clock and when Jason Logan (Spartanburg, SC) scored on a layup two seconds before the buzzer, the Mustangs took a 35-22 lead into halftime.
Rolling over their marksmanship from Tuesday night's upset of No. 8 Concordia, the Mustangs shot at a 58% (14-24) clip in the first half, highlighted by a 7-12 showing from long distance. Meanwhile, Biola converted just 29% of their shots during the opening 20 minutes.
Basketball tends to be a very streaky game with opposing teams trading skeins that either get them back in the game or put decisive distance between. Over the first 12 minutes of the second half, the Mustangs enjoyed a variety of double-digit leads, including a game-high, 18-point advantage after Derrick Fain (Dallas, TX) sank a trey for a 42-24 lead at the 18:08 mark.
They enjoyed a trio of 15-point leads during that 12-minute window until the Eagles made a modest run, getting as close as 51-43 on a Pierre Zook three-pointer with 7:32 left in the game. However, Logan responded with a three-point play on the Mustangs' next possession, building the lead back into double digits where it remained for the next four minutes.
In fact, it appeared that the Mustangs had put the game away when Chris Patureau's (Houston, TX) consecutive layups made it a 60-45 game with 5:22 remaining. However, the Eagles weren't about to concede that quickly. Darkari Archer sandwiched four free throws around a Caelan Tiongson layup and a quick 6-0 burst sliced the deficit to nine points (60-51) at the 3:07 mark.
Fain, who scored 15 of his team-high 20 points in the second half, responded quickly, notching seven of his team's next eight points to keep the Eagles at bay. The last of those points came on a pair of free throws with 1:23 left that increased the lead to 68-58.
Still, the Eagles refused to die. Chipping away at the deficit in furious fashion, the Eagles scored 13 points in the final 77 seconds of play, fouling at every opportunity and converting on nearly every offensive possession.
An Archer three-pointer closed the gap to 70-64 and five straight points by Zook, including his seventh three-pointer of the evening, brought the hosts to within 72-69 with 48 seconds showing on the clock.
A pair of Fain free throws helped the Mustangs but the Eagles, playing off a boisterous crowd, kept coming, pulling to within 76-74 on Zook's final trifecta of the game with 21 seconds remaining.
An Eagle foul sent Ireland to the line where the junior guard converted both free throws and when Archer missed on Biola's next possession and Logan hit one of two from the stripe, the Mustangs had successfully fended off the hosts and earned a big road win.
Fain's 20-point outing came on 6-11 shooting, including a 3-6 mark from behind the arc. Stalin was the only other Mustang in double figures with 10 points but six other Mustangs scored at least six points, including Logan who had that many while yanking down a team-high nine rebounds.
After a solid first-half showing from the field, the Mustangs were almost as good over the final 20 minutes, hitting 52% of their shots to finish the evening at just under 56% (25-45).
In victory, head coach Chuck Martin said, "We're obviously happy to get a big win on the road against a ranked team. The kids withstood an unbelievable three-point barrage and played with great poise down the stretch."
With the end of the regular season just two weeks away, the Mustangs will look to build on these wins (Concordia, Biola) next Tuesday evening when they host Westmont in a 7:30pm start on Bross Court. Back on January 28, the Warriors defeated the Mustangs 58-50.