YUMA, Ariz. – Playoff basketball takes an extra level of grit and grind, and the Arizona Western College men’s basketball team doubled down on both in the second half of the Region I Finals. The Mats (23-9 overall) shut down Cochise College (23-9 overall) after halftime and only allowed 29 points on 26% shooting. The result? A 74-63 win that propelled the Mats to their second straight Region I Title.
The defense kept Arizona Western in the game in the second half even when the offense couldn’t buy a bucket. The Mats were down 53-48 with 7:02 to play after Cochise’s Chaz Mack scored two points.
Alfonso Plummer drilled a three, and the Matador defense started to take a toll. Plummer found Marvin Mapaga for a layup to tie the game, and then Daryl Adams hit two free throws with 5:47 to go for a 55-53 lead.
Neither side scored for the next 90 seconds until Dajuan Beard sank a huge three off a ball screen. His defender ducked under it, and Beard pulled up from the top of the key to put the Mats up by five, 58-53.
Cochise’s Mahki Morris came down and answered with a three, but Adams hit a rhythm jumper for AWC. Morris hit another triple that cut the AWC lead to 60-59, but Cochise ran out of steam after that.
Adams fired in a three with 2:45 to go, and the Mats forced a turnover. Adams drained a pair of free throws on the following possession, and AWC was off on a 13-0 run. Adams had 12 of his team-high 16 points after halftime and added six rebounds.
Beard stole the ball and hit Brandon McGhee in transition for a layup and a 70-59 lead with a minute to go. Beard and McGhee combined for seven steals in the game.
Plummer scored the final four points of the game for AWC to help seal the deal. He had 13 points and four rebounds.
In the first half, AWC stormed out to a strong start. The Mats connected on two early three’s, and it seemed like they were headed off to the races after building a 16-7 lead on a Daryl Adams three with 13:02 to go in the first half.
Cochise took a timeout that stemmed the tide, and the Apaches battled back. Cochise’s defense sucked the life from the Matador offense and kept AWC uncomfortable. The Mats saw the nine-point lead evaporate, and Cochise took a 19-18 lead with 8:36 left in the first half to cap a 10-0 run.
The two sides traded buckets before Morris got hot for Cochise. He scored 10 straight points to help Cochise go up 34-27 with less than three minutes to go in the half.
Plummer ended the run, and the Mats crawled within two points at the half, 34-32.
Lamont Traylor was named the Region I Tournament MVP after providing a steadying presence inside for AWC. He finished with 12 points and added eight rebounds and provided a lift inside.
McGhee added 10 points for Arizona Western in addition to four rebounds, five assists and four steals.
Morris led all scorers with 25 points for Cochise. Mack added 12 points, five rebounds and four steals. Bryan Urrutia had 11 points, five rebounds and five steals.
The Mats are headed to Salt Lake Community College on Saturday for the District Final. The winner of that game earns an automatic berth to the NJCAA National Tournament. Salt Lake beat Southern Idaho 87-86 in the Region 18 final over the weekend. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on 560 AM KBLU.
Arizona Western College is one of the top community colleges in Arizona. The college boasts partnerships with all three state universities that include face-to-face classes in Yuma. AWC leads the state in enrollment growth over the past 10 years and handed out more than 2,300 certificates and degrees in 2016-17.