Standing beside the bleachers 15 minutes before tipoff Wednesday, The Master’s University coach Kelvin Starr discussed “process” with one of his assistants.
If the Mustangs were going to capitalize on a galvanizing start and make the NAIA national tournament for the first time since 2000, he said, they had to win games like this one: games TMU was expected to win.
It wasn’t an issue.
The Mustangs came out white-hot in the first half and cruised to a 102-64 home win over San Diego Christian, TMU’s sixth straight Golden State Athletic Conference victory.
It’s safe to say, despite the Hawks’ 3-7 GSAC mark entering the night, the Mustangs (18-3 overall, 7-3 in GSAC) didn’t take their visitors lightly.
“If you get away from the process, a team like this can beat you,” Starr said, adding that a key to the Mustangs’ conference surge has been a team-wide buy-in to roles.
“Because of that buy-in you’re getting the end result,” the first-year coach said.
Hansel Atencia led TMU with 16 points and six assists. Five other players finished in double-figure scoring for the Mustangs, who have been a different team in conference play since a 32-point loss to Hope International on Jan. 7.
“We realized if you don’t come ready to play, these teams will do that to you,” said Starr, whose team sat in fourth place in GSAC entering the night.
But even after a game in which the Mustangs shot 64 percent from the field in the first half — building a 47-24 lead — and bullied the Hawks to a 22-6 scoring advantage in the paint during that span, Starr knows TMU must press on.
“We’ve got to keep executing and winning games to make it (to the national tournament),” he said. “It’s not a guarantee just because you’re 17-3.”
The Mustangs started fast.
TMU guard Evan Jenkins (15 points, seven assists) drained a 3-pointer from the left shoulder and bounced off the court as San Diego called a time out. It was 11-2. Four minutes had passed.
Six minutes into the second half, Jenkins drove and passed to an open Timothy Soares (14 points, 11 rebounds) for a dunk that put the Mustangs up 59-34.
The score was 70-37 five minutes later.
“We want a hundred,” a sparse crowd chanted late in the game with TMU stuck on 94.
Travis Yenor (12 points) hit a 3-pointer with one minute left to get it done.