By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
One reason coach Kelvin Starr is pleased to be heading into a 10-day break is because it provides The Master’s University men’s basketball team with a breather ahead of crucial contests later this month and in early January.
He’s also pleased with the way the No. 2-ranked Mustangs are playing heading into the Christmas layoff.
Master’s, Starr feels, has once again found its identity: defense.
“For us, it’s the defense end,” he said. “Sometimes people think we’re a high-powered offensive team. Even though we average 90-plus points, it all stems from the defensive end.”
The Mustangs (9-2) got away from their bread and butter earlier this month in an 82-80 upset loss at San Diego Christian, a defeat that snapped an eight-game winning streak and dropped Master’s to 2-1 in Golden State Athletic Conference play.
But it didn’t take long for the Mustangs to find their footing.
In a 94-46 non-conference win over Westcliff University on Saturday, Master’s played aggressive, dogged defense as it raced out to a 22-3 lead that became a solid bounce back effort.
Starr said his goal this season is for TMU to finish first in the conference in field goal percentage defense, the percentage the Mustangs’ opponents shoot against them.
“Not point total, because we’re always going to give up more points than some people with our tempo and our speed and the way we play,” Starr said, “but field goal percentage is crucial.”
Westcliff shot just 23 percent as a team, a good sign for the Mustangs, who lead the GSAC in that category as of Monday, allowing teams to shoot just 39 percent.
“That’s the goal. Hold people under 40 percent for the year, outrebound them and have fewer turnovers than the other team,” Starr said. “Then we’ll be in good shape.”
The Mustangs will return to campus on Dec. 26 for two days of practice before hosting the Jersey Mike’s Holiday Classic at TMU on Dec. 28 and 29.
Master’s will play the University of Antelope Valley at 6 p.m. on Dec. 28. The Pioneers pushed the Mustangs in a 74-66 TMU win earlier this season in Lancaster.
Master’s will close the two-day event against the University of Saskatchewan at 3 p.m. on Dec. 29 before taking on the University of Calgary on New Year’s Eve (1 p.m.).
“Hopefully with the break we can rest up the guys a little bit and the guys stay in shape and we come back and make a run,” Starr said.
Big men, big performances
Saturday’s win over Westcliff also served as a showcase for TMU’s strong front court. Tim Soares, a 6-foot-10 center and a returning NAIA All-American, and 6-6 forward Michael Taylor combined to make 14 of 17 shots for 39 points. They also combined for 20 rebounds and three blocks.
“I think they fed off each other. Both phenomenal,” Starr said. “Both brought great energy, both finished strong, both rebounded well and both defended well.”
For more information on The Master’s University Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.