Courtesy of ART U Athletics
Despite Academy of Art men’s basketball holding an 11-point advantage at the half, their Pacific West Conference matchup with Fresno Pacific was not decided until the closing moments as senior forward Mike Asante’s jumper at the final buzzer propelled ART U to its third consecutive victory with a 54-52 win over FPU on Monday, January 2.
“Winning on the road is difficult, and tonight it is a testament to our guys that they kept playing through the highs and lows that every game throws at you,” said ART U Head Coach Scott Waterman. “Our defense was great tonight, holding FPU to 29 percent from the field and forcing 15 turnovers. However, on the offensive end, we couldn’t get into a good rhythm, but we will get that right.”
It took nearly five minutes before the Urban Knights (9-4, 4-3 PacWest) found the bottom of the net for the first time, but their stifling defense helped keep them in the game as the Sunbirds (4-9, 2-5 PacWest) only made two buckets over that same span. Those first two points, a layup from sophomore guard Rodney Munson, kick-started what became a 13-2 run as Academy of Art established control. Asante contributed five points to the span with a layup and a triple, while sophomore forward Jamal Fuller added the three-point play before senior guard Klay Brown ended the streak with a jumper.
Each time the ART U lead would grow, at one time swelling as large as 14 points, the Sunbirds found some offense or were able to work their way to the free-throw line. A 3-pointer with one minute and 43 seconds remaining had cut the deficit back to eight points for FPU, but just over a minute later, a three-ball from graduate student guard Deang Deang put ART U back on top by double-digits at the half, 29-18.
Coming out of the break, Fresno Pacific found another gear, erasing the Academy of Art cushion with a 12-0 streak over the first four minutes of the second frame. Not even a timeout midway through the stretch could stop FPU, as a missed ART U layup would lead to a Fresno Pacific dunk followed by a subsequent bucket from beyond the arc to give FPU their first lead since the 12-minute mark of the first half.
From that point on, it became a slugfest, as both teams established four-point leads that they were unable to hold as there were three ties and seven lead changes over the final 12 minutes. As the contest was heading down the home stretch, it was then that Academy of Art managed to assemble one last 7-0 run that proved key before the final whistle.
Following a perfect 2-for-2 trip at the line for junior forward Latrell Williams, Asante did his job as a rim protector by swatting away an attempt from FPU’s Nate Kendricks, leading to a Munson layup and one for a five-point swing. The following Sunbird possession, the Urban Knights forced yet another turnover before capitalizing with a jumper from Deang in the paint to put ART U up by five.
Even that lead did not hold, with a pair of FPU layups returning the score to a one-point game before an ART U foul at the half-court line with five seconds left put FPU at the stripe with a chance to potentially win the game should they go 2-for-2. FPU’s Kendrick was able to hit the first, but after a 30-second timeout from Academy of Art, his second missed the mark as Williams collected the rebound and called the last ART U timeout.
Now able to hold for the last shot but having to go the entire distance of the court, the Knights’ inbound pass from Williams went directly to Asante who ran from one free throw line to the other down the right wing, rising up for a fadeaway jumper that just escaped his hand before the sound of the buzzer to send ART U home victorious. This marked the second-lowest point total in a win in ART U history, second to only the 48 points they scored against NDNU during a 48-47 win on Dec. 8, 2018.
It was a sweet return to Fresno for the Urban Knights, who were back for the first time since they won the 2022 PacWest Tournament Championship on the same floor around ten months ago. This marked ART U’s fifth consecutive victory in contests on FPU’s home floor, defeating the Sunbirds in the season finale before ousting them in the opening round en route to being crowned tournament champions (the opening round counts as a neutral site win).
Along with his late-game heroics, Asante was instrumental in the rest of the contest thanks to his 14-point, 13-rebound double-double that he also paired with four blocks, two steals, and two assists (blocks are ART U career high while steals are season best). Meanwhile, Brown contributed double-digit points with 10 of his own as Deang chipped in nine, Munson added eight, and Williams snatched eight rebounds to pair with six points.
The defensive effort set a new season best as the Knights held FPU to just 28.8 percent (17-for-59) shooting from the floor. Still, it just missed setting the program record as it fell exactly 1.0 percent shy of the 27.8 percent (20-for-72) that ART U held Holy Names to in Academy of Art’s first season of existence on Jan. 6, 2009. The Urban Knights also forced another 15 turnovers (only eight steals) as they continue to generate the most turnovers in the PacWest, averaging 16.9 per game.