Gila Monster men red hot early, fade in loss to Matadors
Eastern Arizona was red hot in the first half. It was anything but in the second half.
And that let the more consistent Arizona Western men's basketball team rally past the Gila Monsters 63-54 Wednesday in Yuma.
The Gila Monsters (18-7 overall, 10-7 Arizona Community College Athletic Association) shot 9 of 14 on 3-pointers in the first half. They had separate leads of nine and 10 points, including 39-29 at halftime after scoring 10 straight to close the first 20 minutes. But they went the final 14:16 without a field goal in the second half, allowing the Matadors (21-4, 16-1) to maintain at least a share of first place in the conference with Central Arizona.
“I think we really guarded it, really rebounded it,” AWC coach Charles Harral said. “The kids played hard and if we keep playing hard we'll have a chance to win all of our games going down the stretch.”
The Gila Monsters opened the game seemingly unable to miss in the first half. Dominique Hunter made all four of his 3-pointers, and Jon Orr was 2 for 4. But they went 1 for 10 from long range in the second half and made just three field goals in the final 20 minutes. Orr was 1-for-5 from long range and Hunter missed both of his shots.
“I don't think we were doing a good job of getting back in our transition defense and they were getting some open shots,” Harral said. “Normally teams don't shoot at that high a percentage, 9 of 14, in the first half, but I think a lot of it is we weren't getting to those shooters.”
AWC raced out to an 11-3 lead, then Eastern went up 22-13. The Matadors tied the game at 29 with 3:40 left in the first half, but Eastern went on its run for the lead at half.
The lead grew to as much as 48-34 after the final Gila Monster bucket. The Matadors took the lead for good on pair of free throws from Carlos Perez with 6:02 left. Free throw shooting was important in the second half, with 25 total fouls called. The Matadors made 75 percent of their free throws, while the Gila Monsters made 47.1 percent of theirs.
Perez scored 10 and grabbed 12 rebounds. Tanner Clayton eight points, 18 rebounds and four blocks. Anthony Alston led the Matadors with 18 points.
The win sets up a showdown Saturday when the Matadors travel to Coolidge to face Central Arizona. AWC won the first meeting in Yuma, handing Central its only ACCAC loss.
“It's a big game, but they are all important,” Harral said. “We still have to play Central and (third-place) Cochise, and Central still has to play us and Cochise. There's a lot of games left and we're just trying to keep getting better.”