Ed Petruska-Contributing Writer-Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — What a win it was for the Central Arizona College men's basketball team.
Down to seven players and minus their leading scorer, the Vaqueros overcame an 11-point deficit to defeat Mesa 64-61 on Saturday at the George Young Activity Center.
"We knew we were going to need big contributions from everybody," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. "Our mantra was 'next guy up.' It had to be a collective effort."
The Thunderbirds (13-8, 9-4 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) took a 24-13 lead with 8:58 remaining in the first half on BJ Burries' 3-pointer. Central (11-10, 6-7 ACCAC) did not take its first lead until Jalen Menzies scored on a drive with 10:54 to play to make it 45-44.
There were four more lead changes and two ties after that.
The Vaqueros went ahead to stay at 63-61 on a third-chance basket by Brenton Woods with 38.1 seconds remaining. After Woods made a free throw with 13.6 seconds left, Mesa had two chances to force overtime. Both 3-point attempts by Burries, a former star at Globe High School, were well off the mark.
"We knew it was going to come down to the final possession. It always does with Mesa," Aaron said.
The Thunderbirds won the Nov. 23 matchup 61-60 by converting a late four-point play.
With JC Canahuate (14.8 points per game) sidelined by a strained abdominal muscle, four of his CAC teammates responded by reaching double digits. Woods provided 18 points, followed by Ryan Pate with 13, DJ Hawkins with 12 and Menzies with 11.
Although Shakeil Bertrand (12.3 PPG) went scoreless, he helped out with his defense and rebounding, Aaron said.
Dane Maggi scored 17 points for the Thunderbirds, who were up 31-25 at halftime.
Mesa led 60-55 with 3:30 remaining before Pate hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give the Vaqueros a 61-60 lead with 2:20 left.
Erasing the deficit was a matter of "attacking the rim and not settling for 3s," Aaron said. "You can always find a way to get back in the game if quitting is not in your vocabulary."
The Vaqueros shot 29 percent in the first half, going 9 for 31 overall and 3 for 13 on 3-pointers. They were 13 for 30 from the field in the second half, including 4 for 13 on 3s.
Central outscored the Thunderbirds 39-30 in the second half, holding Mesa to 31 percent from the field (11 of 35 overall, 4 for 13 on 3-pointers).
Both teams made 22 of 61 shots for the game (36 percent).
The Vaqueros hit 13 of 18 free throws and converted 13 Mesa turnovers into 11 points. The Thunderbirds went 9 for 11 from the line and scored five points off CAC's 10 turnovers.
Seven of Mesa's eight losses have been by seven points or fewer.