Slow start finally gets to Fresno Pacific men’s basketball team

Fresno Pacific and Matt Samuels, driving against Hawaii Hilo’s C.J. Brown on Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, will play in the consolation final at the NCCAA national championships on Saturday. (CRAIG KOHLRUSS/THE FRESNO BEE)

Slow starts lately plagued the Fresno Pacific men’s basketball team, and that was a concern for Sunbirds coach Chris Wright. But usually the Sunbirds would kick-start in the second half and end up winning.

That sort of happened Thursday, but the outcome was different this time.

Shorter (Ga.) jumped out to a 28-12 lead in the first half en route to to a 104-95 victory over the Sunbirds in the National Christian College Athletic Association Tournament semifinal in Winona Lake, Ind.

“Started slow again,” Fresno Pacific coach Chris Wright said. “We couldn’t get over the hump.”

The Hawks built a 54-39 halftime lead, but the Sunbirds went on a 11-0 run to open the second half and later cut Shorter lead to 54-50. The Hawks then took control with 12:52 left in the half on a pair of free-throws by Dedric Ware for a 65-54 lead.

Sunbirds guard John Taylor, coming off a 50 point outing against Roberts Wesleyan, was in foul trouble all game and Malcolm Griffin did all he could finishing with a game-high 29 points and 10 rebounds. Taylor chipped in with 27 points and Matt Samuels added 16.

“Our guys battled hard,” Wright said. “But you can’t spot a good team with 14 points in the first 6 minutes and recover easily.”

The Hawks, who will play for the national title on Saturday, had all five starters score in double figures, led by Anthony Banks who finished with 28 points.

The Sunbirds (21-8) will play for the consolation championship against the loser of No. 2 Cedarville and No. 3 Oklahoma Christian at 7 a.m. PDT Saturday.

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.