At last Saturday morning’s shoot around before the Northwest College men’s basketball game against 20-0 Gillette College, Trapper coach Brian Erickson showed up wearing all black.
Black suit, shirt, socks and shoes. He appeared to be dressed for a funeral and that was his point.
Erickson told his players he was attired that way to commemorate “the death of Gillette’s undefeated season.”
Later that day, Northwest made the coach’s wardrobe prediction come true.
In their biggest victory of the season, the Trappers held off challenge after second-half challenge to edge the Pronghorns 94-89 at Cabre Gym.
While downing the No. 6 nationally ranked team, the Trappers five times saw Gillette rally to within a single point – but never let the Pronghorns take the lead.
“We couldn’t let that happen,” said guard Calvin Fugett Jr., who scored 16 points. “We made sure they played our game.”
During one of the toughest stretches of the season the 12-10 Trappers fell to Casper College 100-85 on the road a few days before the Gillette game after being tied 40-40 at the half.
After struggling much of the season to adapt their talent to the game plan, Erickson thought the young group of players showed signs of a breakthrough at Casper.
He attributed Casper’s 60-point second-half partially to a 35-20 foul disparity.
Umar Jalloh (18 points), Reme Torbert (16), Luc Lombardy (11) and Lagio Grantsaan (10) were all in double figures in that game.
Erickson has constantly preached ball movement and lack of selfishness to mesh the pieces. He got it Saturday and when asked if that was the Trappers’ best 40 minutes of the year, Erickson said, “For sure. It just shocked our guys what level they can play at.”
Except for the opening moments, Gillette never led, but the Pronghorns always lurked.
The second half started with guard Blake Hinze, the former Cody star, nailing two straight 3-pointers, giving the Trappers a 50-41 margin.
Gillette put five players in double figures, including high man Ted McCree with 24 points, but could not at any time overcome Northwest’s little leads that hovered in the five- and six-point range much of the second half.
It was Northwest 71-65 with eight and a half minutes to go, but the Pronghorns put up five straight points to trim the lead to 71-70.
Northwest answered and with six minutes remaining, the Trappers led 81-73. But there was no reason to think that lead was safe either. Gillette promptly ran off seven points in a row to trim the lead to 81-80. It was also 83-82, 85-84 and 88-87.
As seconds ticked off the clock and fans roared, the Trappers repeatedly pulled off huge plays.
Reme Torbert darted down the middle for layups and 18 points.
“I was just taking what the defense gave me,” Torbert said. “I had to keep being aggressive. The lane was there.”
Hinze, who finished with 10 points, twice drew offensive fouls giving Northwest possession. There is an art to forcing opponents into making that offensive mistake, although Hinze simplifies the move in his head.
“Honestly, you just sit there and let them hit you,” Hinze said. “You stay in one place and let them run you over.”
If that sounds risky, Hinze did end the game with a left shoulder injury that requires doctor’s approval before he can play again. However, he said he did not hurt it taking a charge.
The Trappers got rebounds when they absolutely had to have them, hit free throws when they absolutely had to make them, and Torbert at times took over the game.
“When they cut the lead we made some big shots,” Erickson said. “The atmosphere was unbelievable.”
Lombardy hit big-time 3-pointers early and late and added critical free throws during Gillette’s last-gasp runs.
And Lombardy conducted the noise in the building, raising his arms exhorting the fans to stay in it.
“That’s the first time we played 40 minutes,” Lombardy said. “It’s good for us. We know we can beat everybody.”
The win was special for Northwest and Erickson said he may stick with his man-in-black outfit.
“I might have to keep this every game,” he said. “The Johnny Cash look.”