AWC men beat Mesa
With a 22-point lead in the second half, the Arizona Western men's basketball team seemed ready to punch its ticket to the NJCAA Division I Region I Championship.
Host Mesa didn't go quietly, but it sure made things interesting.
The No. 2 Thunderbirds cut the deficit to three with 20 seconds left but got no closer as the No. 3 Matadors held on for a 74-67 road win on Thursday.
“I didn't feel comfortable,” AWC coach Charles Harral said. “You know that they are going to make a run at home. They're not 24-7 for no reason. But I'm proud of the way we played. We hung in there and now we're in the region final. You can't ask for more than that.”
The Matadors will travel to No. 1 Central Arizona in the championship after the Vaqueros beat No. 4 Cochise 81-59. It's a rematch of last year's region final, won in Yuma by the Matadors.
AWC got there by surviving a late Mesa rally. The Thunderbirds cut that 22-point lead down to single digits midway through the second half, but the Matadors started to heat back up, opening a 64-50 lead after five straight points by Darien Walker, who scored 18 in 19 minutes off the bench. He missed Friday's regular-season finale in Mesa, which AWC lost.
But Mesa still had a rally left, getting the lead to 68-63 with 55 seconds left. Aaseem Dixon missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw situation. Mesa couldn't capitalize, but Tanner Clayton missed his one-and-one. The Thunderbirds answered with a pair of free throws to get the lead down to 68-65, but Marvin Whitt — who had a game-high 21 for the Matadors — connected on his one-and-one to finally put the game away.
Now the Matadors prepare for the Vaqueros. Central won both regular season meeting against AWC.