IGNAL PEAK — Starting the second go-round of Arizona Community College Athletic Conference play, the Central Arizona College men's basketball came through with a sorely needed victory on Wednesday night.
The Vaqueros snapped a two-game losing streak by holding off Arizona Western 84-78 at the George Young Activity Center. The Matadors whittled a 21-point deficit to two points with 20.1 seconds remaining before Central secured the win by going 4 for 4 from the line in the final 14.8 seconds.
Four of the ACCAC's five Division I teams qualify for the playoffs. The Vaqueros (10-10, 5-7 ACCAC) came in as the odd team out, trailing Eastern Arizona and Mesa by four games and Western and Cochise by three.
CAC coach Tramaine Aaron is convinced his team can go 11-0 in the second half of conference play. Four of the Vaqueros' seven losses in Round 1 were by five points or fewer.
"I think we can do it," Aaron said. "I have to believe we can do it. Our mission going forward is to play with more poise."
Ahead 40-30 at halftime, Central extended the lead to 65-44 on two free throws by Brenton Woods with 10:26 left. Jalen Menzies made a 3-pointer with 5:21 remaining to halt a 9-0 Western run and put the Vaqueros up 68-53. A 3-pointer by DJ Hawkins made it 76-63 with 2:12 left.
But the Vaqueros made just one field on their final nine possessions — Shakeil Bertrand's dunk with 44.1 seconds remaining.
After the Matadors (13-7, 7-5) trimmed the deficit to 80-78 on Pharoh Allah's 3-pointer and a basket by Gio Nelson, Central iced the outcome by getting two makes apiece from the line by Hawkins and Woods.
"We were making shots and concentrating on our defensive assignments, then we started giving up layup after layup," Aaron said. "And our offense got stagnant. We have to do a better job of playing through the nerves."
Five of Central's seven scorers finished in double figures. Hawkins led the way with four 3-pointers and 22 points, followed by Woods with 17, Ryan Pate with 15, Bertrand with 14 and JC Canahuate with 10. Pate also had four of CAC's 12 3-pointers.
Bertrand was named ACCAC Division I player of the week for Jan. 12-18, becoming the first Vaquero to earn the honor this season.
Cash Williams scored 22 points for the Matadors. Allah had 17, Nelson scored 15 and Daniel Kiely had 10.
The Vaqueros connected on 13 of 15 free throws in the second half and made 20 of 28 overall. Western went 8 for 8 from the line in the first half and 21 for 26 overall after an 8-for-8 finish.