ESPAÑOLA, NM — The Central Christian College men's basketball team keeps rolling. They moved to 17-5 on the season with a hard fought victory over the Johnson & Wales University Wildcats on Saturday, 62-57.
It was pretty apparent early on in the first half that playing back to back games at in the altitude of New Mexico was affecting the legs and lungs of the Tigers. The Wildcats jumped out to a quick 7-0 lead in the first three minutes of the game. The Tigers didn't score their first field goal, a layup by Jubril Osagie, until the 16:46 mark in the half.
At the 14:52 mark, the Tigers clawed their way back and took their first lead of the game. It looked like they were poised to break the game open when they extended their lead to five, 16-11, with 12:29 remaining in the half. Unfortunately, the Wildcats wouldn't fold, and the rest of the half was neck and neck. As time expired in the half, the Wildcats had a slim one point lead, 32-31.
The second half was a war of attrition. The Tigers looked gassed at times, but continued to battle. The Wildcats extended their halftime lead to four points in the first three minutes, but by the 14:15 mark of the half, the Tigers had tied the game back up at 39. Three minutes later, the Tigers were once again up by five and seemed to be poised to put the game away.
Again the Wildcats failed to get the message, and clawed their way back and tied the game at 45 with 9:16 left to play.
Things got a little stressful for the Tigers down the stretch. At the five minute mark, the Tigers had a six point lead, 56-50. On the next Wildcat possession, Daniel Nwosuh stole a ball and went in for the layup. Instead of laying the ball in, he attempted to drop the ball off to a teammate, but instead the ball ended up in the arms of a Wildcat defender. On the other end, a Tiger foul sent the Wildcats to the line for a pair of free throws. They made 1 of 2 to cut the Tiger lead to 56-51.
The Tigers threw the ball away on their next possession, and JWU made a layup to cut the lead to three. Michael Gholston was fouled driving to the hoop on the next trip down the floor. He made both free throws to put the Tigers back up by five with 3:38 left in regulation. Neither team was able to score on their next two possessions, but after a turnover by Nwosuh, the Wildcats were given new life when they were awarded two free throws with 1:28 after a foul by Kendric Warren. The Widcats made them both, and the Tiger lead was back down to a single possession.
After another turnover by the Tigers, the Wildcats capitalized and got back to within one, 57-58 with just 57 tics on the clock. The Tigers called timeout, and head coach Tony Romero calmed his guys down, and drew up a play. Warren got the ball at the left elbow, and after a back screen from Gholston, Sam Clayborn got just enough separation from his defender and ran to the left block. Warren found him with the ball, and Clayborn made a reverse layup to put the Tigers back up by three.
The Wildcats coughed up the ball on their next trip down, and Clayborn had a contested look at the rim, trying to put the Tigers up by two possessions. His shot rimmed out, and after it bounced around for a second or two, it ended up going out of bounds and the Tigers retained possession. The Tigers called timeout and set up an inbounds play with 15 seconds left to play. The Wildcats ramped up the pressure and the Tigers were forced to call their last timeout when they couldn't get the ball inbounded. After the second timeout they succeeded in inbounding the ball to Gholston. He was immediately fouled and went to the line to shoot a one and one. He missed the front end, and the Wildcats secured the rebound. The Wildcats got the ball across the time line, and looked for a three pointer to send the game into overtime. They passed the ball to the left wing, but the Tiger defense was suffocating. One of the JWU big men tried to pass the ball back right to the top of the key, but Ernest Burton jumped in to the passing lane, stole the ball and went the other way. He went in for an uncontested two handed dunk that emphatically sealed the Tiger victory 62-57.
It was a low scoring affair, but the Tigers managed to place four players in double figures. Gholston led the way with 14 points, followed by Osagie with 13, Clayborn with 11, and Burton with 10.
"Give Johnson and Wales credit, they came out and played really well,” Romero said. “They really made it a grind out game. It was not pretty at times for us, we had some careless turnovers and missed free throws in critical moments. We were on the ropes, and our seniors responded. Sam, Mike, Daniel and Ernest all made plays down the stretch to secure the win. We found a way to win when it wasn't our best performance, which says a lot about our group. A very long but successful weekend."
With the win, the current Tiger winning streak is now up to 9 games. They will be back in action Wednesday on the road at Haskell Indian Nations University. They will tipoff with the Indians at 7:30 following the women's game.