NMMI freshman point guard John Mapiou dribbles in from behind the arc, trying to create some movement and offense for the Broncos during their final regular-season match vs. Howard College. (Photo courtesy of Shutternut)
Peter Dindinger – NMMI Sports Press
The New Mexico Military Institute Bronco basketball team controlled their own destiny going into Thursday night’s regular season finale against the Howard College Hawks.
With a three-way tie for fourth place in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference standings, alongside Odessa College and Western Texas College, all the Broncos needed was a win at home.
In front of a capacity crowd on Sophomore Appreciation Night, NMMI let one slip through its fingers, 79-70, at the Godfrey Athletic Center.
But despite the loss, the Broncos (15-13, 7-9) remained in a three-way tie, thanks to losses by the Wranglers and Westerners. According to the power points NMMI earned by sweeping South Plains College this season, the Broncos will await the winner of the play-in game between Odessa and Western Texas on Monday.
Western Texas College and Odessa College play at 2 p.m. Saturday in Big Spring, Texas, with the winner taking on NMMI in yet another neutral site match Monday, which decides the fourth place position in the WJCAC and thus a berth in the Region V tourney which begins March 4 in Abilene, Texas.
“Give all the credit to Howard, they played loose,” said NMMI head coach Sean Schooley. “They really shot the ball well.
“We were always in an uphill climb. I don’t think we shot it very well. We were lucky to come out 79-70. We have no business letting teams get into the high 70’s.”
For a brief moment, the Broncos looked like they were on top of their game.
John Mapiou hit one of four 3-pointers in the first four minutes for NMMI. The Broncos led by five in the first half.
The Hawks (16-14, 6-10) went on a scoring spree, led by Klay Brown who had 17 points in the first half to help his team take a seven-point lead into the locker room at the half.
Howard made 13 three-pointers in the game, including a Tsotne Tsartsidze shot from the beyond the arc to give the Hawks a 53-37 lead just three minutes into the second stanza.
NMMI was in catch up mode the entire second half. After trailing by as much as 18, it wasn’t until there was 2:34 left in the contest that the Broncos chiseled down the deficit to single digits, 70-62, on a steal and easy bucket by NMMI’s top scorer Mapiou.
Mapiou played lights out for the Broncos, tallying 25 points, four rebounds, three steals and six 3-pointers.
Andrew Cotton added with 12 points while Jermane Carter had 11.
Brown led the Hawks with 28 points while Eric Reed Jr. had 17 points and 10 boards. Tsartsidze chipped in with 10 points.
NMMI shot 13 for 36 (36 percent) from the field in the second half.
Now the Broncos have to quickly reset or else their shot at appearing in the Region V tourney is over.
“What did it for us was our power rating, by us sweeping South Plains,” Schooley said. “We’ve got to get our minds right, we’ve got to get healthy and we have to learn from this.
“Fortunately, we only got to play one game to get in. I’m not sure we could survive two.”