This article was originally published in ZU News.
The Azusa Pacific men’s basketball season came to an end on Saturday night as the Cougars fell to California Baptist, 68-72, in the semi-finals of the NCAA DII West Region Tournament. The Cougars trailed by as much as 14 points at the start of the second half, before nearly completing a successful comeback.
“It’s a great college basketball game. Obviously the first half wasn’t our finest performance on either side of the ball. When we were down by 10, it seemed like a little bit too much of a hole to dig ourselves out of,” head coach Justin Leslie said.
The Cougars knew that they were capable of going head-to-head with Cal Baptist, especially after their huge first-round upset. APU beat this year’s PacWest Champion and the tournament’s No. 2 seed in Dixie State, 69-65, on Friday to advance to the second round. This loss was the Cougars’ fourth of the year to Cal Baptist, after losing to the Lancers in the PacWest tournament last week and twice during the regular season.
Cal Baptist was the only team that APU played multiple times and did not defeat this year.
Sophomore guard Mandrell Worthy led the team with 24 points, which was a season high for him.
“My teammates put me in the right position. Coach called the plays and my teammates looked out for me,” Worthy said.
Sophomore forward Selom Mawugbe had eight points, six rebounds, and a team leading two blocks. These two blocks gave Mawugbe the single-season record for blocked shots with 89, a record that was formerly held by Coach Leslie (88) when he played for the Cougars back in 2001.
“I brought him here to break that record. I told him that when I recruited him,” Leslie said.
This game was also particularly big because it was the final game for senior forwards Corey Langerveld and Petar Kutlesic.
“This loss really hurts. It’s always tough at the end of the year to be put in a position like this where they’re here because they had a good game, but I know their hearts are with the seniors who aren’t going to be here anymore. Their hearts want to be back out on that court for one more possession to have another chance,” Leslie said. “We’re going to miss Corey and Petar and their unbelievable investments they’ve made in this program as four and five-year players.”
Leslie also said that he believes the program will be in good hands due to the impact the two seniors have had.
“They’ve passed the torch off to men who are going to be hungry and are going to come back and continue to represent APU basketball,” Leslie said. “These are wonderful men that I’m surrounded with. I just couldn’t be more happy to coach this group. It hurts right now, but this is a wonderful team to be a part of.”
Mawugbe said that he’s learned from both Kutlesic and Langerveld in his time at APU.
“I learned a lot in these past two years that I’ve been honored to play with them. Corey is the epitome of a leader. All the little things that we take for granted and don’t want to do, Corey just jumps in with both hands and both feet with no hesitation and accepts that role. I learned a perseverance that I’ve never seen before,” Mawugbe said. “As for Petar, he has this fight in him that I’ll never forget. He works hard at his craft. I learned a lot from him as a freshman. He brought me in and was willing to teach me. He taught me what he was best at.”
Worthy, who transfered to APU this past offseason, said he has also learned a lot this year.
“I came here with the intentions to come to the NCAA tournament every year because that’s what this program is used to. I’ve learned from the two seniors. They were the ones with the experience so I looked to them to follow,” Worthy said.
Leslie echoed Worthy’s claim that the team wanted to be there every year.
“I could not be more proud to be a part of this program. As Mandrell said, our goal is to be here every year. The reason we do is the quality of character of these men and it carries over onto the basketball court,” Leslie said. “I brought my son on multiple road trips this year. These guys are his heroes. That’s why I do it.”