Sunbirds punch ticket to NCCAA men’s nationals in Indiana

Fresno Pacific head coach Chris Wright makes a call from the bench during their game against Hawaii Hilo at Fresno Pacific Monday, January 14, 2013.
CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE

The Fresno Pacific men’s basketball team beat Azusa Pacific on Wednesday and is now headed to the National Christian College Athletic Association finals on March 13-16 in Winona Lake, Ind.

The Sunbirds built a 53-35 lead against Azusa but were facing foul trouble to two of their starters. Malcolm Griffin and Antonio Credit each had four fouls, but coach Chris Wright decided to keep them in with 16 minutes remaining.

“Rolled the dice,” he said. “Fortunately, it worked out for us.”

Azusa Pacific rallied to cut the halftime deficit to 57-46, then went ahead 72-70 on Troy Leaf’s three-point play with 14:14 remaining in the game.

The Sunbirds led 86-85 with 7:39 remaining, but Griffin’s dunk capped a 9-2 run that made it 95-87 with 5:24 left.

After Azusa got within 106-103 with 28 seconds left, Taylor hit 1 of 2 free throws and Matt Samuels hit a pair to seal he Sunbirds’ 20th win.

“Twenty wins is special,” Wright said. “I’m excited for us to get to Indiana. It will be fun to compete for a national title.”

Taylor finished with 39 points, Samuels added 20 and Griffin chipped in with 19.

The Sunbirds (20-7) will find out Sunday who they will play on March 13. Fresno Pacific will likely be one of the top seeds in the eight-team tournament at Grace College.