AZUSA, Calif. – Playing just a few miles from his hometown of Upland, Calif., there was no way Zach Robbins was going to choke the game away Monday night against Azusa Pacific.
The 6-foot-10 Dixie State junior center nailed six straight free throws in the game’s closing seconds en route to a career-high 27 points as the Red Storm beat the Cougars 82-75 at the Felix Event Center.
Protecting a one-point lead with less than one minute on the clock, DSU point guard Kimball Payne ran the clock down and with 38 seconds remaining, drove left down the lane. His layup went long. Jordan Rex kept the rebound alive, tipping it right into the hands of Robbins. APU immediately fouled the preseason conference player of the year as he attempted the putback. Robbins proceeded to calmly hit both free throws. The scene would play out twice more on the defensive end — a missed 3-pointer by Azusa Pacific, a defensive rebound by Robbins, followed by an immediate foul and two free throws for Robbins. He made them all.
The seven-point win wasn’t easy as DSU had to rally from seven down at the half. The Red Storm committed 10 first-half turnovers and only shot 39 percent from the field.
“Coach (Jon) Judkins told us we needed to slow down,” said Robbins. “Our turnovers were hurting us. We needed to play more fundamentally sound, not go for the amazing shot.”
Dixie was able to cut the lead to four on two separate occasions early in the second half. But at the 12:40 mark, the Cougars still held their seven-point halftime advantage. Enter Louis Garrett. The former Pine View standout sparked the Red Storm in the comeback, first with a tip-in on a missed 3 from Sawyer. After a Robbins jumper cut the lead to three, Garrett forced a turnover, was fouled and hit two free throws to cut the Cougar lead to one with 9:41 to play.
“Louis played a lot more aggressive tonight,” said Robbins. “It was really good to get him back full strength.”
A layup by Sawyer completed the comeback and the Red Storm led for the first time since early in the first half, 63-62.
Both teams would exchange baskets over the next six minutes. Neither team could pull away. however. and the lead never exceeded two points until the last minute.
In the first 10 minutes of the game, neither team could shake the other as they drew to a 17-17 tie halfway through the first half. APU then went on a 16-5 run, sparked by two 3-pointers from Corey Langerveld and the Cougars led by 11, 33-22, at the 5:44 mark. The Red Storm would claw back to within four on a Garrett jumper with 3:17 to go, 38-34. Mason Sawyer had seven points in the run. APU would again stretch the lead to 10 points. Robbins layup as time expired cut the lead to seven.
Robbins had a double-double and led all scorers with 27 points and 11 rebounds. Garrett and DeQuan Thompson scored 15 apiece. Sawyer chipped in 10. Payne finished with nine points and five assists.
Dixie played better defense after the intermission holding APU to 41 percent shooting and only 18 percent shooting beyond the arc.
The Cougars also had four players in double figures led by Tyler Monroe with 17 points. Robert Sandoval scored 15. Sharif Watson and Troy Leaf scored 12 apiece.
The win moves DSU to 14-2 overall and 8-2 in Pac West Conference play. The loss snaps APU’s two-game winning streak giving them an overall record of 9-6 and 5-4 in conference play.
Dixie State will travel to San Diego to face Point Loma University on Saturday. The Red Storm had to overcome a 15-point deficit in their earlier matchup to squeak out a two-point victory against the Sea Lions in St. George back on Dec. 14.
Stats: DSU 82, APU 75
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