After Quick Start, NWC Falls To Central Wyoming 78-75
For the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s Region IX play-in game against Central Wyoming, the Northwest College men’s basketball team did everything it needed to win.
Defense was stingy, shots were falling and the team-first concept head coach Brian Erickson and his staff had been drilling into the Trappers all season was paying off in a big way.
But after controlling the action on both ends of the floor, and with the end of the game in sight, NWC took its foot off the gas just enough to let the Rustlers back in the game. By the time the closing seconds arrived, Central Wyoming was clinging to a three-point lead.
With three ticks left on the clock, a Blake Hinze 3-pointer rimmed out, giving CWC a 78-75 come-from-behind win and a spot in this weekend’s Region IX Tournament.
“It was a tough loss,” Erickson said. “We were doing all the things we were supposed to do, things we’ve worked on. But in the second half we kind of went back to our old selves, it’s been our story all year. We’ve been calling it ‘too many heroes,’ guys trying to do too much.”
The Trappers (14-17, 6-10) jumped out to a 27-12 advantage behind the hot hand of Luc Lombardy. The sophomore hit three of five 3-pointers in that stretch while teammate Calvin Fugett netted six points of his own, setting the tone for as strong a first half as NWC had played all season.
“I thought we did a good job of making them [CWC] take tough shots,” Erickson said. “I think they only made one or two 3-pointers in the first half. They were taking deep shots and we were rebounding the basketball pretty well. We played really good team basketball in that first half.”
Trapper freshman Umar Jalloh was a monster on the boards in the opening frame, pulling down 10 rebounds while scoring eight points. With everything clicking offensively, NWC went into the break with a 41-31 lead.
“For the most part, the guys were feeling pretty good at halftime; they were excited for where they were at,” Erickson said. “We didn’t have to make any big adjustments, it was just trying to clean up some of the things we already had in place.”
Central Wyoming came out fired up to start the second half, going on an 8-0 run to cut the Trappers’ lead to two, 41- 39. Lombardy answered with back-to-back 3-pointers to push NWC’s lead back out to seven, but the Rustlers weren’t going away. Turnovers became an issue for the Trappers, and with 10 minutes left in the game, CWC tied it at 54-54. The Rustlers took their first lead of the game shortly after, and the game was back and forth from there.
“I think we came out nervous in the second half,” Erickson said. “You’re up by 10 and you start playing not to lose. Those last 10 minutes, the ball stopped moving, we weren’t attacking, we were settling for outside shots. We had about a five-minute span there where they came back, got up by six points. We didn’t play as a team.”
With just over a minute to play and the Rustlers up by six at 74-68, Lombardy connected with his seventh 3-pointer to cut the lead in half, though NWC would get no closer. The two teams traded baskets but the Trappers ran out of clock, as Central Wyoming closed out NWC’s season, 78-75.
“We executed our final play really well, we couldn’t have had a better look,” Erickson said. “It [Hinze’s final shot] was wide open, just couldn’t get it to fall.”
Lombardy led the way for NWC, ending his career as a Trapper with a 30 points and four rebounds. Showing signs of good things to come, freshman Calvin Fugett netted 13 points to go along with three assists and two steals, while fellow freshman Jalloh finished with 12 points and 11 boards for a double-double.
Reme Torbert had a relatively quiet night by his standards, scoring nine points and dishing off four assists. Lagio Grantsaan finished with six points and four assists, while Hinze ended his Trapper career with five points and five assists.
It was a somber end to a roller-coaster season, though Erickson said it wasn’t all about wins and losses with this team.
“It’s like any year when the season ends, it hurts,” Erickson said. “You’re not going to play with these guys again as the same group. But what they’ll always remember is that they’re teammates. They might not remember our record or every single game, but they’re always going to remember the relationships they’ve gained throughout the year.”
With the season over, Erickson said it’s a time for self-reflection for coaches and players, as they prepare to move forward.
“After you lose, you have to look internally, even as a coach,” Erickson said. “What can I do better? What could I have done better? Then you try to fix that going into the next year. We’ve grown, we’ve learned a lot, but what could you have done better? How much harder could you have worked?”
With Lombardy, Hinze and Jace Johnson soon to graduate, Erickson said there will be a void to fill, but he’s confident his talented group of freshmen are up to the task.
“Jace Johnson is a guy who just left it out there everyday,” Erickson said. “If you ask anybody who the hardest worker on the team is, no doubt they’d say Jace. Blake [Hinze] left it out there every game as well.
Erickson said Lombardy “improved unbelievable amounts,” turning into one of the best shooters on the team.
“Last season, he wasn’t getting a lot of time, he hadn’t fully bought in. He came in really, really focused this year,” the coach said.
He added that all three sophomores “did what we asked them to do.”
“They’re all the high-character guys we need on our program,” Erickson said. “They will be tough to replace; it’s always hard to replace good kids.”