by Michael Rowse
For the second time in as many nights, Western New Mexico faced a nationally ranked team. For the second time in as many nights, the Mustangs came away with a win, this time dropping #14 Adams State University 74-70. Just as they did in the win against #20 Ft. Lewis College the night before, the Mustangs came up with key defensive plays as the clock expired to clinch the victory.
In the first meeting between these two teams in Alamosa CO, WNMU dominated the first 25 minutes of play building a 20 point lead before the talented Grizzlies roared back to pull out a win. Last night, while Western didn't lead by as many the Mustangs took the lead less than one minute into the game. With about 15 minutes left the in the second half the Grizzlies began to chip away at the Mustang lead and fans began to see eerie similarities between the two games.
ASU hit 4 three point shots within the span of about 2 minutes of play while the Mustangs went cold from the field. That surge erased a double digit Mustang lead and gave the Grizzlies a lead about midway through the second half. The teams would trade the lead several times over the next few minutes with neither team able to gain any real momentum and pull away from the other team. It was defense down the stretch along with some clutch shots that won the game for the Mustangs.
With about 2 minutes to go, Merle Branch drove deep into the lane after a Mustang steal and found Darryl Littleton for an open layup giving WNMU a 69-68 lead. Feeling the confidence of their recent shooting, the visiting team put up a 3 point shot but it was well defended and caromed off the rim as Chad Carter grabbed the rebound. He was quickly fouled and hit one of two free throw shots with just over one minute to play.
ASU's Kaimay Pruitt called for the ball and put up a 12 foot fade away jumper but Carter blocked the shot and collected the loose ball. Juan Suarez, who had hit several key buckets earlier in the game, got open for a three point shot but it missed the mark. Not to worry, Littleton sailed in for an offensive rebound and chip shot to build the Mustang lead to 4 with :26 left to play. ASU chose not to call a timeout and pushed the ball up the floor for a three point attempt which missed it's mark but Pruitt was able to sky and get a tip in. The Grizzlies needed only six seconds to cut the deficit to just two points.
Out of a timeout, WNMU faced full court pressure and had difficulty getting the ball in bounds. The pass from Lucio Luttrell bounced off the hands of Andy Solich and rolled out of bounds giving the ball to ASU on their end of the floor with :17 left on the clock. John Jackson, who had almost single handily beaten WNMU in the teams' first game, got the inbounds pass and set up the play for the Grizzlies. With about six seconds left Jackson got a screen from Pruitt and made a move to the basket. But once again, there was Littleton. Darryl got the clean steal and raced to the other end of the floor for a rafter rattling dunk that sealed the Mustang victory, 74-70 with .2 seconds left in the game.
Carter and Suarez led the Mustangs in scoring with 17 a piece as Carter also had a team high 11 boards. Andy Solich came off the bench to add 10 points while Littleton added 9. The win moves the Mustangs to 8-9 in RMAC play and tied for seventh place with 2 other teams. The top eight teams make the playoffs. WNMU will remain at home next weekend facing Western State College and Colorado Mesa. WSC is tied with WNMU for the 7th spot.