Matador men survive last-second scare against NMMI
Last week's hero for New Mexico Military Institute could only watch Saturday's ending from the bench and wouldn't be able to hit his second game-winning 3-point against Arizona Western in a week.
Instead, Najee Whitehead witnessed Desmond Barnes' attempt to be the hero rim out as time expired.
Despite not scoring in the final 2:07, the Matadors hung on for a 65-62 win at The House in the 8th Annual Wells Fargo Classic Saturday, avenging a 65-64 loss last week on Whitehead's buzzer beater.
“We were trying to not let them shoot the 3 like last week,” AWC guard Marvin Whitt said. “We were fortunate that they missed. They played very hard tonight. I guess we overmatched their intensity.”
The Matadors (7-3) had a chance to put the game away on the previous possession, but Will Marshall couldn't hold on to a pass into the pain in heavy traffic. Without any timeouts, the Broncos (3-6) transitioned upcourt and Barnes launched his attempt from just beyond the line on the left side of the key with Darien Walker and Aaseem Dixon in his face.
Coach Charles Harral called two timeouts on the Matadors' final possession but said he didn't talk about the possible defense of a game-tying shot.
“I was more worried about us making a basket and not a turnover,” Harral said. “We kind of addressed things generally prior to the game and in practice how we want to guard stuff. I thought we did a pretty good job at the end, they took a tough shot, but we were able to rebound it.”
The second half was a back-and-forth affair, with neither team scoring more than five in a row until the Matadors scored seven straight to break a 56-56 tie. Tanner Clayton ended the run with 3:12 left with a dunk in traffic, drawing a foul and making the shot to complete the 3-point play. The Matadors built the lead back to seven when Whitt scored on a bucket and was fouled by Whitehead, but missed the foul shot.
After the Broncos cut the lead to 65-60, Whitt got a big offensive rebound after a clock-eating first possession, but the Matadors turned the ball over again as the shot clock wound down and Ta'Jay Henry easily converted the steal into a layup.
“We didn't make shots, and we've got to continue to work to try and make them,” Harral said. “They're not falling now. Hopefully we'll get back to shooting them.”
The Matadors struggled early, never leading in the first half after Dixon made the game's first bucket. They trailed by as much as nine with Whitt playing four minutes in the first half. He didn't score nor have an assist.
“I kind of blame myself for the poor first half. I have to blame myself,” said Whitt, who played the entire second half. “The team looked up at me and I kind of got frustrated the first half. I let coach get to me when he was trying to motivate me. I take the full blame for the first half.”
Harral said he was pleased with Whitt's second half, and the sophomore finished with six points, six assists and six rebounds. Keywhon Powns led the Matadors with 14 points, while Dixon and Walker added 12 each. Henry led the Broncos with 22, including making all 10 of his free throws. As a team, AWC attempted just six free throws compared with 26 for the Broncos, but NMMI committed just three fewer fouls than the Matadors.
Whitt and Walker's six rebounds led the way for AWC, which was outrebounded 40-31 by the Broncos. Eric Edwards had a game-high eight.
“I think it feels good,” Harral said. “You want to win at home, and our crowd pushed us over the top. ... I thought we took care of the ball and got enough stops to win.”