Ed Petruska-Contributing Writer Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — There was no containing Naje Smith on Tuesday.
The 6-foot-7 freshman torched the Central Arizona College defense for 33 points, and Cochise pulled away for a 73-54 men's basketball victory at the George Young Activity Center.
The point total was a season high for Smith, who came in averaging 19.2. He made 14 field goals (including one 3-pointer) and went 4 for 4 on free throws.
"We knew what he was capable of," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. "You can't let guys like him get going. You have to make everything difficult for them."
Central fell to 3-4 overall and 0-3 in the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference. Unlike their previous three defeats – which came by a combined 10 points – the Vaqueros were never in position to deliver a knockout punch.
"We do a lot of damage to ourselves," Aaron said. "We go away from things that have worked for us, which is what comes with youth and inexperience at this level. We have a scrappy bunch of guys who play hard and want to get better. They just have to take that next step and start to succeed."
Cochise (7-2, 2-1 ACCAC) led 35-22 at halftime. The Vaqueros closed to within single digits on several occasions in the second half before the Apaches finished them off with a 15-2 run in the final 6:21.
"They play hard, and they hit us hard from the beginning," Aaron said.
Smith scored 16 points in the first half and 17 in the second, including the first nine points of the clinching surge. Following a three-point play, Smith also scored on the Apaches' next three possessions, making two baskets and a pair of free throws. Mycole Rodriguez hit a 3-pointer that pulled Central within 49-42 with 11:51 remaining. JC Canahuate's basket with 11:06 left made it 49-44, but the Vaqueros got no closer.
After Jalen Menzies made two free throws with 6:32 left to trim the deficit to 58-52, Central did not score again until Brenton Woods hit two free throws with 1:55 remaining – the final points of the game for the Vaqueros.
Canahuate, Woods and Ryan Pate were CAC's leading scorers with eight points apiece. Menzies and DJ Hawkins each had six.
Arion Lewis made three 3-pointers and scored 19 points for the Apaches.
Central led 32-31 at halftime in last week's ACCAC opener at Arizona Western before the Matadors rallied for a 79-74 win. The Vaqueros owned a double-digit lead in the second half of Saturday's game at Mesa and were up 60-57 in the final minute, only to lose 61-60 on a four-point play with 6.1 seconds to play.