After dropping two straight Region IX North games to begin conference play, the Northwest College men’s basketball team was in need of a gut check moment.
The Trappers found just that last week — winning on the road against Western Wyoming and at home against Gillette College. Struggling out of the blocks in the first half of both games, the team found its resolve late, mounting back-to-back second half comebacks to push its conference record to 2-2.
“We’ve had multiple moments where we’ve put everything together that we’re trying to do as a basketball team, utilize our talent to the best of our ability,” said Trappers head coach Dawud Abdur-Rahkman. “But we just weren’t consistent with those moments. It seems like the last couple of games, we’ve just become more consistent. ... All the things that go along with being productive and successful, we’ve been doing that.”
Trappers 69, Western Wyoming 67
Abdur-Rahkman called the start of Northwest’s game against Western Wyoming (6-12, 1-3) in Rock Springs “pretty awful,” as the team trailed 32-20 at halftime. In the locker room, the coach challenged the Trappers (9-11, 2-2) to play to their potential.
“Slow starts have just been our M.O. Nothing different about it,” he said. “We scored 20 points in the first half — it was just bad. So I challenged the guys on why they’re here, what they’re doing. ‘What do you guys want out of this?’ They came out the second half a different team.”
The Trappers more than doubled their point total in the final 20 minutes, outscoring WWCC 49-35.
“That was kind of the difference in the game — everyone was just focused and engaged and playing within themselves. Nobody tried to do too much,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “We’ve been able to ramp up our energy and effort, and it’s made us a better basketball team.”
The Trappers were led by the usual suspects — Reme Torbert netted 23 points and Lagio Grantsaan just missed a double-double with nine points and 10 rebounds. But it was a heads-up play from a player off the bench that iced the win for NWC.
Tied 67-67 with 10 seconds left, Western called a timeout in the front court with an eye toward setting up a final shot to win the game. Looking to avoid yet another overtime situation, Abdur-Rahkman designed a defensive play he hoped would catch the Mustangs off guard.
“Lo and behold, it worked,” he said. “Reme Torbert was supposed to be the centerfielder, but got hung up at the foul line. Out of the blue, Jason Feliz comes out of nowhere as the pass is going, intercepts it and heads the other way.”
Feliz was mugged by three defenders on the fastbreak, sending him to the line to shoot two with four ticks left on the clock.
“He [Feliz] goes to the line, knocks two down, and
Western couldn’t get a shot off,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Just an incredible way to end the game.”
Darius Webster and Brian Howell also scored in double figures for the Trappers, with 14 points and 10 points, respectively. Back on the court after missing a couple of games with an ankle injury, Howell made the most of his limited time on the floor.
“Brian [Howell] played well, he had 10 points, so he’s getting there,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “Darius [Webster] was in double figures and played well on the boards. Nobody played great, but everybody played good enough to get the win at the end.”
Trappers 82, Gillette 74
Northwest was able to carry the momentum from the exciting win at Western into Saturday’s home game against Gillette (11-9, 0-3). Five Trappers scored in double figures for an 82-74 win. After another slow start, NWC battled back from an eight-point deficit to trail by just two at the break, 37-35.
“Again, in the second half, we just elevated our effort on the defensive end,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “This game was a total team effort; I think it was the first time that we had a six- or seven-man rotation, and that was it. It was one of those games where we just took a step and didn’t fall backward. We all just clicked.”
Torbert again led the charge on the scoreboard for the Trappers, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds. Howell and Grantsaan each posted double-doubles, with Howell netting 16 points and grabbing 10 boards and Grantsaan finishing with 10 points and 13 rebounds.
Kyle Brown added 12 points and eight boards, while Calvin Fugett finished with 11 points and four assists.
“By default, rather than by design, we’ve shortened our rotation,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “The box scores reflect that. We’re getting guys committed to a single purpose, playing with good energy and effort.”
The Trappers hosted Central Wyoming (8-11, 3-1) Wednesday, and will hit the road Saturday to take on Casper (18-2, 4-1) — currently ranked seventh in the nation in NJCAA Division I. Abdur-Rahkman said both games will be a challenge as always, but he thinks the Trappers might surprise some people.
“I’m anxious to see how we come out,” he said. “I think we’re taking a step forward, and I’m hoping that it’s all coming together. Camaraderie and organizational dynamics [are] hard to come by, but when it comes, that’s when teams become very good. I’m hoping we get there.”