The Master’s University 2019-20 men’s basketball team understands with the amount of talent that the Mustangs return along with the depth that they have acquired over the off-season, that they need to set the tone early if they want this season to be unlike the recent years.
“Our past experiences have been tough on us and I think we have been learning through that,” said Master’s senior center Tim Soares. “We just want to be able to come and perform at the highest level every night so when it comes down to the harder games we are ready to go off the bat and we don’t struggle at all.”
After an 11-0 start to begin the season, extending their home winning streak to 45 games, the Mustangs’ back-to-back first-round exits in the NAIA Tournament in the past two years is a constant reminder. But the team seems to be determined to right the ship.
In his fourth season with Mustangs, Soares is a chiseled two-time NAIA All-American over the past two seasons and has already seen a return in his work ethic during his senior campaign.
Setting a career-high with 36 points in a 96-77 win over Ottawa University Arizona, the 6-foot-11 center is averaging a career-high 17.6 points per game in nine games played this season. But, it’s Soares’ presence in the post that pays dividends for the team, as is evident with back-to-back GSAC Defensive Player of the Year awards the past two seasons.
But through the first 11 games, Soares is arguably considered to be the second-best player on the team to begin the season with fellow senior Brock Gardner having himself a career year, as well.
Leading the team in scoring (24.5 points per game), Gardner has taken the Mustangs to new heights improving his scoring differential by 10.2 points after finishing 2018-19 averaging 14.3 points per contest.
Already in the first 11 games of the year, Gardner has scored 40 or more points in three of five games, setting a career-high (43 points) against the College of Idaho. He surpassed the 1,000-point mark the following game against Arizona Christian on his way to a 34-point outing.
Gardner was named the GSAC and NAIA Division 1 player of the week on Monday, Dec. 9 and Wednesday, Dec. 11, respectively.
“They have done a good job of leading us,” said TMU head coach Kelvin Starr. “They are both All-Americans, for sure. I don’t see how Brock wouldn’t be, there’s no way he won’t be. He has taken it to another level. He’s shooting it better, being more aggressive and he’s really stepped up big time.
“Tim has gotten better all four years, really, but he’s Mr. Consistency. We do notice him on the defensive end when he’s not out there, that does help a lot having him out there with his size and length.”
Redshirt-junior Michael Taylor, who has the build of a veteran football player, adds energy, ruggedness and an unmatched physicality every time he steps on the court, settling into his role on the team.
Taylor is currently averaging 6.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game.
“He’s an athlete that shouldn’t be playing at our level athletically,” Starr said. “He’s as good a player as I’ve had at this level. He’s bought into his role, as well, another guy that has been humble because he could have wanted a lot more and has played against some really good players, but he’s a good piece.”
With the departure of Delewis Johnson and Hansel Atencia one of the biggest adjustments has been the implementation of returning guards –– Jordan Starr and Darryl McDowell-White — as the team’s two starting guards.
While McDowell-White ranks third on the team in scoring (14.2 points per game) and Starr is fourth (8.8 points per game), the two are unselfish as can be, often making the extra pass to find the best shot.
The two have combined for 78 assists in the first 11 contests this season.
“We can make good things happen on our own, but we know we are stronger together,” McDowell-White said. “It’s almost like the (Golden State) Warriors, strength in numbers because we have been together for a couple of years now. We know if we play together it’s going to be way more beneficial for us.”
Senior transfer forward Sam Boone (Seattle Pacific University) adds length to an already stacked frontcourt and junior-transfer guard DJ Wilson (Southwestern College) compliments the experienced guards.
Freshmen Anton Mozga and Jay Turley fortify the future of the program and are averaging over 15 minutes per game to begin their Mustangs career.
“They are big key pieces for us because coming in we didn’t know who coach was going to recruit, but once we got here and we saw them step on the court, we knew we were going to be good and be safe,” McDowell-White said about the team’s additions.
“They have had their moments when they have been really good and then they’ve had their moments when they are adjusting to us, but once we unlock them and unlock each other seven-deep, it’s going to be an incredible season.”