The Northwest College men’s basketball team ran their winning streak to three games last week, winning a tight contest on their home floor against Central Wyoming 89-83.
But the streak came to an end Saturday at Casper, as the Thunderbirds showed why they’re the No. 12 team in the nation, dismantling the Trappers 91-67. The loss evens NWC’s Region IX North at 3-3.
“The week was all over the place,” said NWC head coach Dawud Abdur-Rahkman. “It was good to get the win against Central, but the Casper game showed us we still have a ways to go to get where we want to be.”
Trappers 89, Central Wyoming 83
NWC freshman Brian Howell netted 26 points and three other Trappers finished in double figures, as Northwest held off a pesky Rustlers squad 89-83 on Jan. 23 at Cabre Gym.
“We’re at a point now where guys are starting to buy into the whole concept of team basketball,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “The guys are understanding that their strength lies in the strength of the team; the better the team, the better they’ll be able to perform.”
The Trappers (10-12 overall, 3-3) jumped out to a 16-10 lead in the first half, behind 3-pointers by Lagio Grantsaan and Reme Torbert and baskets by Howell and Kyle Brown.
Central (8-13, 3-3) battled back, however, taking a 10-point lead before Northwest pulled within two at the half, 41-39.
Playing against an unfamiliar zone defense, the Trappers got the shots they wanted, Abdur-Rahkman said.
“The credit goes to the kids for being able to set up those shots against a team whose bread and butter is the zone defense,” he said. “It’s not easy to do.”
The Rustlers pushed their lead back out to seven points to start the second half, 52-45, as Northwest struggled to find a rhythm. But a basket by Darius Webster at the 15-minute mark sparked a 22-6 run by the Trappers that took the wind out of Central’s sails. The Rustlers made a later charge to tie the game at 76-76 but Webster, Brown and Calvin Fugett shut the door for good, holding on for the 89-83 win.
Howell’s 26 points led all scorers, and the freshman led the team in rebounds with seven. Brown finished with 19 points to go along with five assists.
Howell and Brown “have so much untapped talent,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “They can take it to another level, because both of them can flip that switch.”
Grantsaan netted 17 points, adding six rebounds and five assists, while Torbert rounded out Northwest’s double-digit scorers with 14 points.
“The great thing about those guys [Grantsaan and Torbert] is they see the light at the end of the tunnel; their focus is making sure they have an opportunity at the next level,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “But even with that, they’re not selfish players, they’re always up there in assists. And you can count on them to shake off a slow start and get back in the game.”
Fugett led the team in assists with seven, while Axel Okongo had four blocked shots.
Central won the battle of the boards 32-29, but the Trappers owned the charity stripe, hitting 16 of 20 free throws.
Casper 91, Trappers 67
Riding the momentum of a three-game win streak, the Trappers knew they would have to be on the top of their game heading into Saturday’s game at Casper College.
But another slow start doomed what on the box score looked to be a fairly even game. The No. 12 Thunderbirds (20-2, 4-0) built a 22-point lead at the half at 46-24 and held off the Trappers after the break for the 91-67 win.
“We started out slow, which is typical, that’s our M.O.,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Against a team as good as Casper, ranked nationally, you can’t do that. Even with all of the good things we can do, it wasn’t enough to make up for it.”
The second half was indeed more competitive, as the Trappers cut the lead to 12 at one point. But Casper continued to capitalize on little mistakes and mental errors, quashing any hopes Northwest had at a late comeback.
“We could just never get over that hump to break the lead back down to single digits and put more pressure on them,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We want to be in a good position, we want to be fundamentally sound, but they’re going to make shots. That’s what good teams do. You have to be able to weather that, then not complicate things by making bad decisions.”
Torbert and Brown paced the Trappers with 13 points apiece. Howell finished with 11 points, followed by Grantsaan with nine and Fugett with eight.
Despite the 24-point loss, Abdur-Rahkman said there were positives, including the team’s resilience.
“I liked our no-quit attitude,” he said. “I liked how hard we played in the second half, and more than that, I liked how we executed in the second half.”
The Trappers were outscored by just two points in the second half, 45-43, and Abdur-Rahkman believes that, with a quicker start and a few more boards, Casper is a team Northwest can hang with.
“All the guys were making better decisions and playing together in the second half,” he said. “We just have to get to that point earlier.”
The Trappers host a pair of Region IX North opponents this week, welcoming in Laramie County CC Wednesday and Eastern Wyoming Saturday afternoon. Both teams had success against Northwest earlier in the season, but Abdur-Rahkman said it will be a different Trapper team that takes the floor.
“Both those teams caught us at a bad time,” he said. “To what degree we’ve gotten better I can’t quantify, but I know for certain we have gotten better in terms of our execution and our defense. I expect us to come out and be hungry.”