Torbert, Lombardy Torch Pronghorns
Shortly before Saturday’s game against visiting Gillette College, members of the Northwest College men’s basketball team noticed something different about head coach Brian Erickson: He looked like he was dressed for a funeral.
Clad head to toe in black, Erickson had a message for his team ahead of squaring off against the undefeated and nationally-ranked Pronghorns.
“I asked the guys in the locker room for a moment of silence,” Erickson explained. “They looked at me for a minute, then got quiet. I told them, ‘Guys, today we’re having a funeral. We’re having a funeral for the death of Gillette’s undefeated season.’”
And what a funeral it was. In front of a packed house and a raucous crowd, the Trappers (12-10, 2-3) took the lead early and never looked back, outlasting the No. 6 team in the nation, 94-89, for NWC’s biggest win of the season.
“I’m still just numb,” said a water-soaked Erickson, the recipient of a post-game dousing by his team in the locker room after the game. “It’s really hard to put into words what this game means. Tonight we took that next step of buying into the process of what we can do as a team a little bit more.”
Few in Region IX gave the Trappers much of a shot against Gillette’s high-powered offense, but if the Trappers were intimidated by their taller rivals, it didn’t show. NWC jumped out to a quick 12-4 lead. Gillette (22-1, 4-1) battled back, taking what would be their only lead of the night at the 11:40 mark of the first half. The Trappers quickly retook the lead and — with strong performances by Reme Torbert and Luc Lombardy and a tenacious defense — held a tenuous 44-39 lead at halftime.
“We had a great first half against Casper [on Wednesday, Jan. 24], but made too many mistakes in the second,” Lombardy said. “We didn’t make those mistakes tonight. We definitely played better together as a team. Defensively, we kept the pressure on.”
The five-point lead at the half would end up being the difference, as the two teams battled to a 50-50 tie in the second frame. The Trappers moved the ball well and took their time setting up shots, with six players — including all five starters — scoring in double digits.
“We’ve been telling the guys from day one to play hard, play smart and play together,” Erickson said. “There was no second-half letdown tonight; they stayed focused and got it done.”
Erickson said this team has a tendency to get away from what’s working by resorting to selfish basketball. None of that was evident Saturday, as the Trappers finished with 19 assists and seven steals for the game.
“When we work the ball, switching screens, doing different things, that’s when we’re at our best,” Erickson said. “We just have to be a more inside-out team, dribble down to the post and kick it out. Because we have the shooters.”
The Trappers sank 10 3-pointers on the night, led by Lombardy with three. Lagio Grantsaan, Torbert and Blake Hinze added two apiece, while Calvin Fugett finished with one. Grantsaan led the team in assists with five, “which is pretty impressive,” Erickson said. “It’s a good night when your post does that.”
Torbert set the tone for the Trappers’ offense, netting a team-high 18 points. Lombardy followed with 17 and Fugett chipped in 16 to go along with his four assists.
“This was a great win for the team,” Torbert said. “We needed that. We haven’t been winning that much, we’ve been up and down. Today definitely boosted our momentum.”
Grantsaan just missed a double-double, finishing with 14 points and nine boards, while a dinged-up Umar Jalloh contributed 11 points and eight boards off the bench.
“Umar [Jalloh] was hurting a bit during the game, he came out at halftime and had heat on his foot,” Erickson said. “He was kinda limping a bit in that second half, but played really well.”
Hinze rounded out the double-digit scorers with 10 points and two steals.
“These guys played at a high level today,” Erickson said. “The question for us coaches is how can we get these guys to treat every game like it’s this important, keep them playing at a high level. They understand now what it took to beat the No. 6 team in the nation. Now they need to carry that out every day.”
“We needed a win, we’re 2-3 in the conference now,” he said. “We were moving the ball, doing what coach told us to do, doing what works for this team. We need to enjoy the win tonight, but we gotta come back ready to work Monday. Nobody’s gonna give it to us; we gotta earn it.”
CASPER COLLEGE 100, TRAPPERS 85
Three days before NWC’s stunning upset of Gillette, the Trappers were on the road to take on the Casper College Thunderbirds . NWC played a solid first half, taking a 40-40 tie into the locker room before things came off the rails a bit in the second. Casper (16-6, 4-1) outplayed the Trappers on both ends of the floor in the final frame, cruising to a 100-85 win.
“We did a good job of playing hard and playing together; we just weren’t very smart in that game,” Erickson said. “We gave up 60 points in the second half, and they shot something like 20 more free throws. We didn’t have the officials on our side, or the fans, and I think a little of that got to us.”
Four Trappers finished in double digits, led by Jalloh with 18. Torbert netted 16 points while dishing off seven assists. Lombardy finished with 11 points, including three 3-pointers, and Grantsaan chipped in 10.
Hinze led the Trappers on the boards, pulling down six to go along with five points and a pair of assists.
For the Thunderbirds, Chase Winchester led all scorers with 30 points.
The Trappers hosted Sheridan College (18-3, 3-2) Wednesday night, and will hit the road once again this weekend for a rematch with Western Wyoming (11-9, 4-2). The Mustangs won the first meeting, 89-58.
“We have a lot of ball left,” Erickson said. “We need to just keep playing our game.”