Wins in the beginning of the year are important, but a close win is a much greater accomplishment in the sense of learning and adapting as a team.
On Wednesday, The Master’s University men’s basketball program did just that, hosting the University of Antelope Valley at The MacArthur Center and escaping with a close 73-65 win of the season.
“The games we played so far have all taught us something as opposed to blowing someone out,” said The Master’s head coach Kelvin Starr. “They are a good team and it was a tough battle tonight.”
Both teams began the night sloppy, committing numerous turnovers in the game’s opening minutes as the Mustangs (2-0 overall) turned the ball over 11 times to the Pioneers’ 10.
After Antelope Valley took an early lead ahead 4-3, Master’s transfer DJ Wilson entered the game and answered with three to spark a 7-0 run that was capped by a Brock Gardner three to give the Mustangs their first lead of the game at 7-4 just under four minutes into the first half.
Feeding off Gardner’s energy and physical play, the Mustangs looked down their defenders while moving freely and fluidly, spacing the floor and never trailed the rest of way allowing the visitors to tie the game one more time at 10-10.
Gardner finished with a game-high 23 points, six rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block on the night.
“If one of us gets going, whether it’s me or Tim or one of the guys out there, if they get started early then it gets everyone else going,” Gardner said. “Tonight it happened to be me and it paid off.”
With guards Hansel Atencia and Delewis Johnson departing after graduation, Jordan Starr handled point guard responsibilities to begin the game, with freshman Jay Turley and Wilson also stepping into the position.
Turley was key down the stretch, scoring all seven of his points in the second half. Standing 5 feet, 10 inches tall, Turley played a lot bigger than he is and showed no fear driving into the lane against bigger defenders and playing ball hawk defense.
“Without Hansel and DJ, this team is different so we have to be a little bit more intentional,” Starr said of the guard play. “We are trying to figure out our new guys and where they fit. It’s a whole different look and it will take us a while to figure it out, but I do like the fact that we played our tails off. We played super-hard and that’s one of the most important things.”
Down 33-22 coming out of halftime, Antelope Valley (3-1) came out with an unmatched fire to get within seven points, down 40-33.
A couple plays later, The Mustangs returned the favor with back-to-back baskets by Tim Soares to extend the lead.
The Pioneers rallied once again to get within two points, down 66-64. Once again, Soares came up big for his team and put TMU ahead after a layup.
Antelope Valley missed crucial free throws down the stretch and Gardner sealed the game with a break-away jam to hand the Pioneer’s their first loss of the season.
With the win the Mustangs extend their home win streak to 39 games.
“I think we have to take it into the next couple of games,” Gardner said. “We have a good non-conference schedule coming up and we have to start preparing every day. A win tonight definitely helps with getting us ready.”
The Mustangs The University of Saint Katherine at home at 7 p.m. on Saturday.