Salt Lake City – For the second straight year, the Arizona Western College men’s basketball team fell in a heartbreaker in the District Final. This year, the Mats (23-10 overall) lost 89-86 after a thrilling comeback was just short to eighth-ranked Salt Lake Community College (30-3).
AWC’s Andre Allen missed a putback with 14 seconds left that would have tied it, and SLCC’s Bushmen Ebet went 1-2 at the free throw line to give the Mats one last chance. Brandon McGhee’s straightaway three was too strong, and Salt Lake held on for the win to earn an automatic bid to the NJCAA National Tournament.
The Mats were down 13 at the half and trailed 62-52 with 11:41 to go after SLCC’s Jakoby Kemp hit a layup. AWC’s Lamont Traylor cut the lead to single digits with a short hook, and it started a Matador run.
Marvin Mapaga scored on a putback, and then Dajuan Beard drained a three to make it a one possession game, 62-59, with 9:54 to play. After Salt Lake’s Dalven Brushier hit two free throws, Beard drilled another three. He added a jumper to make it 65-64. Marvin Mapaga finally tied things at 66 up by rebounding an airball and laying it right back in with 8:19 to go.
AWC couldn’t get over the hump though, and Salt Lake kept earning trips to the free throw line. SLCC’s Alec Monson sank two free throws for a two point lead, but Traylor answered with two free throws to tie it right back up. Brushier tipped in an offensive rebound, but Daryl Adams answered with a jumper to knot the score at 70.
Salt Lake scored five straight to take the lead for good, but AWC hung around. Each time Salt Lake went up, AWC managed to knock the lead back to a one possession game in the final few minutes.
With 1:56 to go, Adams drilled a three that cut the Salt Lake lead to 84-81. After a timeout, SLCC’s Alec Monson hit two free throws to put Salt Lake up five.
With 54 second left, Beard stepped into a deep three and swished it to cut the Salt Lake lead to 88-86. Beard had 10 of his 13 points after halftime. Adams ripped the ball from Bushmen Ebet on defense and called timeout to set up the final 40 seconds. Adams had 13 points and four steals in the game.
In the first half, the Mats turned it over 11 times while digging themselves a hole. Salt Lake scored 17 points off turnovers in the first half and went 9-12 from the free throw line to jump out to the lead.
AWC led 9-6 early in the half, but Salt Lake amped up the defensive pressure and ripped off a 16-2 run to build a 22-11 lead a little more than six minutes into the game.
AWC trimmed the lead to five on back-to-back three’s from Alfonso Plummer, but Salt Lake responded. The Bruins kept shooting the ball well though, and they pushed the lead to 14, 42-28, on a Bushmen Ebet three with 3:49 to play in the half. Ebet finished with 17 points in the game and had 13 points at the half.
Marvin Mapaga had 12 points and four rebounds before fouling out late. Will Miles helped keep the Mats in the game in the first half with eight of his 10 points. AWC had five players hit double figures.
Salt Lake went 29-39 from the free throw line and had four players score in double figures. Christian Gray led the Bruins with 18 points, and Josh Colon added 16 points in addition to Brushier and Ebet finishing with double figures.
The Mats claimed their second straight Region I Title and third Region I Title under head coach Charles Harral.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,300 certificates and degrees in 2016-17.