Mustangs men’s basketball primed for new challenges

TMU’s Hansel Atencia (4) starred on Colombia’s national team this summer in a FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifier. Atencia, a rising senior, is expected to be a centerpiece of the Mustangs’ 2018-19 team. Courtesy TMU Athletics/Darcy Brown

The sidewalks roll up pretty early in Newhall, especially during the week. Local businesses close for the day and traffic slows down around 8 p.m.

But there’s a small crevice of the neighborhood that comes alive and is very, very loud. The Master’s University becomes a glowing, buzzing microcosm when its men’s basketball team takes the floor.

Before the Mustangs’ home exhibition game against NCAA Division 2 Azusa Pacific on Oct. 25, food trucks were parked outside the gym as nearly the entire student body fluttered about, waiting for the game to begin.

At tip-off, the packed gym erupted. And it didn’t stop until well after TMU beat Azusa Pacific 82-68.

“We’ve been practicing for like a month and we were basically ready to compete against another team and the first half, it was good for us, although we were not being aggressive,” said guard Hansel Atencia.

“We came out second half being aggressive and attacked the rim and it worked out for us and I think is going to be a special year.”

It certainly does seem to be shaping up to be a special season as the Mustangs followed up its season-opening win with a 78-71 win over University of Concordia Irvine.

They’ll seek to keep the winning streak going at the Texas Wesleyan Champions Classic, which begins today with a game against Louisiana State University Alexandria, the No. 2 team in the NAIA.

TMU is perhaps more determined than ever this season after falling in the NAIA Division 1 Men’s Basketball National Championship last year.

The team has plenty of momentum already, especially after being named the No. 1 team in the nation in the NAIA coaches’ preseason poll.

“Every day we’re just coming in ready to compete,” said forward Brock Gardner. “Especially coming out No. 1 in the nation, it’s a nice feeling but it also … it can be comfortable to just sit back and relax and that’s something we can’t do. We’ve got to keep working hard every day and compete and make each other better.”

Players like Atencia are leading the way. The 5-foot-10 senior got the Mustangs rolling early against Azusa Pacific, draining two early 3-pointers and finishing the night with 20 points.

Gardner wasn’t far behind with 13 points and provided ample power on defense, tying for first on the team with 10 rebounds and four blocks.

The 6-foot-10 Tim Soares also showed what’s to come this season, scoring 17 points and pulling down seven boards.

It’s just a small sample size, but a definite indication that TMU’s corner of Newhall will not be going dim any time this season.

“It’s obviously a big deal for us to let people know that we’re just as good as a Division 2 program,” said Master’s coach Kelvin Starr after the Azusa Pacific game.

“I’m just happy that we kind of played well together … This group is going to be pretty good.”

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