(NMMI freshman guard Jeremiah Barr with an easy two, finishing up a Bronco fast-break in the first half. Photo courtesy of Shutternut)
Peter Dindinger – NMMI Sports Press
Basketball can be a grind.
As players tighten up during crunch time late in the season, they play through the pain just to help their team compete and succeed.
It’s that kind of tenacity that has helped put the New Mexico Military Institute Bronco basketball team in a good position.
On Monday night in front of a raucous crowd at the Godfrey Athletic Center, the Broncos survived a 79-75 thriller over the Odessa College Wranglers.
NMMI (15-12, 7-8) is now in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference standings with one game to go. That’s an important place to be at the tail-end of the season, too, as the top four teams in the conference advance to the Region V tournament.
“It’s a testament to these guys and how hard they play,” said NMMI head coach Sean Schooley after the win. “I just think we play harder than almost everybody, and it’s not perfect.
“We almost have to play kind of ugly basketball at times, but we just coming and coming. I couldn’t be more proud of a team that is banged up and they still just keep coming all over the place.”
The Broncos trailed by five early in the game before tying the score three times to take a 22-16 lead after Jeremiah Barr made a shot in the paint with 11:37 in the first half.
Odessa College (14-14, 7-8) was plagued by 11 turnovers in the opening frame. A turnover by Tauriawn Knight led to a three-pointer by NMMI’s Osborn Shema with 10:26 on the clock.
Leading by a seven-point margin, the Wranglers chipped away to tie the game at 35-all. The Broncos later regained the lead after John Mapiou landed a two-pointer with 2 1/2 minutes remaining until halftime.
NMMI extended the lead to six points, but Odessa College made two key free throws by Knight and a two-pointer by Tavon Jones to trail by three at the break.
To start the second half, Shema landed another big three-pointer to extend NMMI’s lead back to six.
The Broncos led by eight points, their largest lead, before the Wranglers tied up the game three more times.
Ahead by one point, NMMI got a clutch three-pointer from way beyond the arc by Andrew Cotton with 54 seconds left in the contest. Cotton was fouled on the play which helped the Broncos extend their lead back to six.
Jermane Carter, Shema and Mapiou all had 15 points apiece. Cotton finished with 14 points and three assists.
The Broncos landed nine 3-pointers while narrowly outrebounding Odessa College, 34-33. NMMI shot 21 of 24 from the free throw line.
“It’s real big. We’re coming off a couple good wins as well,” Cotton said. “When we lock in and play, we always say we’re the best defensive team in the conference.
“I just think when we’re on our P’s and Q’s we’re a tough team to beat. That’s gonna keep us going a long way.”
For Odessa, Jones led all scorers with 18 points while Knight chipped in with 14. Joe Kasperzyk and Mam Ayuel each had 10 points apiece.
The Wranglers committed 20 turnovers in the contest.
Next up for NMMI is their final game of the regular season, a must-win contest at home vs. Howard College at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
“I’ve had very few groups that will just keep fighting, and that’s just what they keep doing,” Schooley said. “(We) win the next one and we’re in. We put ourselves to a position where we can kind of control our own destiny.
“That defense we played was coach (Will) Joyce’s design. I can’t give him enough props on creating this type of defense. All the credit on the defense goes to him and the guys.”