Northwest Begins Region IX Play 0-2
After winning five of their first six games to start the 2017-18 season, the Northwest College men’s basketball team has gone just 4-8 since. They opened Region IX play last week with losses to Western Wyoming Community College and Central Wyoming College.
The Trappers (9-9, 0-2) have struggled with injuries to several key players since returning from winter break, but head coach Brian Erickson refuses to use that as an excuse.
“We have some injuries, but I still feel like we have enough guys that we should be able to compete,” Erickson said. “I feel we have enough pieces to play better than we did.”
WESTERN WYOMING CC 89, TRAPPERS 58
In the team’s first game since Dec. 9, the Trappers squared off against Region IX rival Western Wyoming on Jan. 10 and dropped their conference opener 89-58.
With starter Laukan Taufa and freshman big man Axel Okongo sidelined with injuries and leading scorer Lagio Grantsaan not at 100 percent, a dinged-up NWC squad struggled to find a rhythm from the start, as WWCC (9-7, 2-0) held the Trappers scoreless for the game’s first six minutes.
“We couldn’t score there at the beginning, and it just kind of kept going from there that first half,” Erickson said. “I think we were 4-18 on layups. We just weren’t finishing strong, and Western Wyoming played hard and emotional. We couldn’t match what they were doing.”
Both teams missed shots early, but the Mustangs settled in, went on a 15-0 run and headed into the half with a 38-15 lead.
“We were too selfish,” Erickson explained. “We’re worrying about the individual instead of the team. We dribble too much, and we don’t pass enough, and those are things we have to correct to be able to win.”
The Trappers came out for the second half with a little more life and cut the lead to single digits at 49-36. The Mustangs adjusted, however, pushing their lead back out to 20 points. The Trappers never got closer after that, and WWCC left Powell with the 89-58 win. The loss was a frustrating one for Erickson.
“We actually had a great week of practice heading into this thing,” the coach said. “Since they’ve been back [from winter break], they’ve been practicing at a higher level than they’ve been at all year. Now we gotta figure out how to take that unselfish, hard work — that high level of basketball — from practice and put it into a game.”
The Mustangs finished with five players in double digits, led by Amin Adamu with 22 points.
Umar Jalloh led the way for the Trappers with 14 points to go along with eight rebounds. Grantsaan, limited by an ankle injury, followed with 10 points in just nine minutes of court time and Luc Lombardy finished with nine points. Reme Torbert and Calvin Fugett rounded out the top five in scoring with six points apiece.
“Lagio [Grantsaan] did a good job for the short time he was in there,” Erickson said, adding, “Umar [Jalloh] put up some numbers, but he’s gotta play at a higher level.”
Kyle Owens provided a spark for the Trappers off the bench. The sophomore from Colorado Springs, Colorado, only netted two points, but led the team with three assists and Erickson would like to see more of the way he ran the offense.
“Kyle hasn’t gotten a lot of playing time, but he stepped up in this game,” Erickson said, adding, “When he was in there, our offense was running smoothly.”
The Trappers finished with five 3-pointers, and were out-rebounded by WWCC 42-27. NWC finished at 56.5 percent on free throws, compared to 68 percent for the Tetons. NWC shot 24 percent on 3-point attempts and 34 percent from the field, compared to WWCC’s 45 percent on 3-point shots and 53 percent from the field.
“We just got out-worked big time,” Erickson said of the game. “They played really, really hard.”
CENTRAL WYOMING COLLEGE 90, TRAPPERS 85
The Trappers came out Saturday with a renewed sense of purpose at home against Central Wyoming College.
Determined to wash the taste of the Western Wyoming game out of their mouths, NWC jumped out to a quick 20-8 lead. But despite a 30-point effort by Torbert that included four 3-pointers, the Rustlers (13-5, 1-1) capitalized on the home team’s mistakes and held on for a 90-85 win.
“We showed that we could compete,” Torbert said. “But we got selfish, and didn’t capitalize on their mistakes. We have to learn to play for each other, feed off the guy that has the energy. There can’t be no quit.”
After the quick start, turnovers became a factor for NWC, allowing the Rustlers to claw back into the game. CWC went into the locker room at the half with a 37-32 lead, and held that lead for the rest of the game. Erickson said the final seven minutes of the first half saw his team fall back into the rut of playing selfish basketball.
“We just had too many lulls,” Erickson explained. “We played a lot better, but we still had 10-15 minutes where we were our old selves, playing selfish basketball.”
The Rustlers increased their lead in the second half. NWC made a late run to make it interesting, but CWC weathered the storm, however, holding off the upset-minded Trappers for the 90-85 win.
“That run, I felt like we were kind of down-and-out, and then guys started making plays again,” Erickson said. “The highs are highs and the lows are lows, and we need to figure out when those lows happen to stay focused and not beat ourselves up. We improved playing as a team from Wednesday night, now we just have to do it for 40 minutes.”
Erickson said he’d like to see the Trappers shift a bit from being a team that lives and dies by the 3-point shot. Torbert and Lombardy hit threes early and often, but as their shots turned cold, so did the entire offense.
“The first half, we hit four 3-pointers and we’re up 20-8,” Erickson said. “That makes for a lot of positive things, excitement. Then we miss our next seven or eight, and we’re down in the dumps. We have to figure out a different way to be able to score. We need that inside presence back.”
Erickson said playing together as a team has been NWC’s struggle the entire season.
“They’re great friends off the court and in practice, but we just haven’t seemed to be able to take this team concept and make it into a game. But we’re close, I think we’re right there,” he said. “If we can do that, we can be a team that can make a little run in February and March.”
Torbert led all scorers with his 30 points, and Erickson was impressed with how the freshman shook off an ugly first half to become a force in the second.
“Reme was not very good in the first half, he struggled with five turnovers. He wasn’t making shots,” Erickson said. “But he came out in that second half and played with an edge.”
Still battling a dodgy ankle, Grantsaan netted 16 points for the Trappers, while pulling down seven boards. Jalloh and Lombardy finished with 11 points apiece, with Lombardy knocking down three 3-pointers.
Central Wyoming had five players in double digits, led by Irshaad Hunte with 16 points.
The Trappers were on the road Wednesday against Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana. NWC is back at home Saturday against Miles Community College, tipping off at 4 p.m. Erickson said the team will continue to work on turning the pressure up on their press, and hopefully go into the weekend with a healthy roster. “We need to play off each other a little bit better,” he said.
“We need these games [against Little Big Horn and MCC].” Torbert agreed. “We have to keep working on not being selfish,” he said of the team moving forward. “That’s probably the biggest thing — we’re selfish on offense and defense. We don’t talk enough. Communication is the key.”