by Michael Rowse
It's become something of a tradition for Mustang basketball. The Stangs will get blown out by Ft. Lewis College in Durango but when the teams meet in Silver City the games are some of the most intense and exciting games of the season. The Mustangs and nationally ranked Skyhawks did not disappoint on Drag's Court as WNMU pulled out a 66-64 victory Friday night. Coach Mark Coleman said he loves when these teams play in Silver City as did FLC Coach Bob Hoff who pointed out that WNMU has beaten FLC 4 of the last 5 times in Silver City by a combined total of about 12 points including one double overtime and another over time game.
WNMU got off to a quick start as Darryl Littleton got a block on the first play of the game leading to a Mustang fast break lay up. That was followed by another Mustang steal and a slam dunk by Littleton that got the home crowd roaring. Chad Carter would then add a three point shot after a made bucket by the visiting team. Western would give up a three pointer but answer with one of their own and WNMU had a quick 6 point lead, 11-5, early in the game. The teams would trade baskets going back and forth before FLC grabbed a pair of offensive rebounds and got easy buckets to pull within one point at 15-14.
Western's shooters then went cold as the Skyhawks pulled away from the purple and gold building a 31-19 lead with just 1:34 left in the first half. But the Mustang defense sparked a run as a steal lead to a Merle Branch fast break lay up followed by another Skyhawk turnover setting up an Andy Solich three point bomb to get the Mustangs within seven, 31-24 at the break.
Another bit of trivia came into play; FLC Coach Hoff pointed out that the only win Ft. Lewis had in the last 5 years in Silver City came when the Mustangs had the half time lead saying it concerned him if Western was down at the break since the Stangs had won each of the other games after trailing at half. That would prove to be prophetic as Western came out of the half time playing inspired basketball.
Western turned up the defensive intensity creating several turnovers and easy buckets eventually tying the game at 41 a piece. But Ft. Lewis is a good team and quickly put together a 9 point run of their own to pull ahead. Western roared back with a fast break bucket from Carter and a three pointer from Lucio Luttrell. FLC would get a slam dunk from Alex Herrera and get the lead back up to six points.
The Stangs then began their move as Juan Suarez hit a three point bucket to pull the Stangs to within one at 54-53. Luttrell followed with a jumper in the lane to put the Stangs ahead for the first time since midway through the first half. FLC was not to be outdone as they roared back on a pair of three point plays the old fashioned way; Herrera and the Mathews made shots in the lane and got fouled hitting their free throws. Western was down by 4 with just 1:34 to go. Carter got a huge offensive board and kicked it out to Suarez who nailed 3 point shot bringing WNMU within one point. On the ensuing possession Western New Mexico forced a Skyhawk turnover and Luttrell was fouled in the scrum. The senior out of Las Cruces hit both from the free throw line giving WNMU the lead.
Western's defense came up big once again as 6-10 Herrera got the ball underneath the Skyhawk basket but the Stangs knocked it loose sending it out of bounds off of Herrera's leg. Andy Solich was fouled with 8.9 seconds left and hit one of two from the free throw line. FLC moved the ball down the floor quickly getting underneath their basket but once again the Mustangs knocked the ball loose and the Skyhawks could not get a potential game tying shot off.
Luttrell led the Mustangs with 25 points on 8-9 shooting including 3 of 4 from downtown. Carter added 20 points and a team high 8 rebounds. Suarez hit for 10 points and added 6 assists. WNMU will have a quick turnaround and face their second nationally ranked team this weekend as #14 Adams State University comes to town for a 7:30 tip off tonight.