By Mason Nesbitt
For The Signal
With Tim Soares seated courtside in a navy warm-up hoody, and Brock Gardner located farther down the bench beside Master’s athletic trainer Jerry Sorenson, TMU forward Sam Boone went to work.
The senior transfer wiggled his shoulders, mentally charting a course through traffic and keeping his defender off balance before bursting toward the basket, spinning into the paint and finishing with his right hand.
Boone, who scored 10 of his 12 points after halftime, carried the short-handed Mustangs down the stretch. But it wasn’t enough to help Master’s dance out of trouble Friday in Lancaster.
The Mustangs lost, 75-62, to the University of Antelope Valley, snapping TMU’s 19-game winning streak against non-conference opponents during the regular season.
Antelope Valley, ranked No. 25 in NAIA Division 2, improved to 10-4.
Master’s, the No. 2 team in NAIA Division 1, fell to 11-1 and won’t play again until Dec. 30 when it travels to Santa Barbara for a tournament at Westmont College.
“We’re always learning. I love our group,” said Master’s head coach Kelvin Starr. “We had a ton to overcome today on the road, and we fought hard the entire game. We just didn’t get the job done. Credit to UAV.”
Soares, a 6-foot-11 All-American center, missed his third game in a row. And Gardner, winner of back-to-back GSAC Player of the Week awards, scored eight points in 26 minutes before leaving the game in the second half and not returning. By then, the Pioneers had already built a 15-point lead behind big nights from Kamal Holden (23 points) and Ronnie Rousseau III (17 points). Rousseau III didn’t play the first time these teams met on Nov. 6, when Master’s won 73-65 at TMU.
The Mustangs didn’t go quietly Friday.
With Antelope Valley leading by nine with 2:37 to play, the Pioneers were called for an intentional foul. Santa Clarita Christian grad Jordan Starr knocked down the ensuing free throws and, getting the ball right back, Starr made a layup to cut the deficit to five. It wasn’t enough.
The Pioneers — who already held wins over Golden State Athletic Conference opponents San Diego Christian, Arizona Christian and Vanguard this year — salted the game away at the free-throw line. That, as it turned out, was the area of the court Master’s struggled from the most. The Mustangs made just 18-of-35 free throws.
“The biggest key is to continue to compete and remain focused on the goal at hand, which is our end goal of being successful in the postseason,” said Jordan Starr, who finished with six points. “It’s a long year, and it’s about the process right now. So we just need to stay with it and just get to the next one.”
Rebounding from a loss is not an altogether foreign subject to the Mustangs — even having won 84 games over the previous three seasons. At one point last year, they dropped back-to-back conference games before recovering to win their final six and claim a repeat GSAC regular-season title.
Friday, one issue that hampered TMU’s comeback attempts was its inability to secure timely rebounds. In all, the Mustangs were out-rebounded 49-29.
“They crashed the boards and out rebounded us big time,” Gardner said. “Overall they just played super physical and we weren’t ready.”
Darryl McDowell-White scored a team-high 21 points for the Mustangs, knocking down 5-of-10 three-pointers. His three to open the second half brought Master’s within three.
After the Pioneers answered with a basket, DJ Wilson hit a trey to cut the deficit to two.
But Antelope Valley soon extended the lead back to double digits, and the Mustangs never came closer than five.
For more information on TMU Athletics, visit GoMustangs.com.