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February 20, 2014 9:09 am

Trapper men end losing streak against Central

Written by Dante Geoffrey

NWC sophomore Franklin Uzonwanne attempts an acrobatic layup during Northwest’s last-minute home loss to Sheridan on Feb. 12. Uzonwanne had 10 points in the 79-78 loss. NWC sophomore Franklin Uzonwanne attempts an acrobatic layup during Northwest’s last-minute home loss to Sheridan on Feb. 12. Uzonwanne had 10 points in the 79-78 loss. Tribune photo by Dante Geoffrey

Northwest’s season-worst four-game losing streak came to an emphatic end Saturday in Riverton, where the Trapper men routed the Central Wyoming Rustlers 79-54.

Head coach Brian Erickson said he was relieved the team put the streak behind them with a solid, 40-minute performance. Erickson said he hopes the intensity with which his team played will carry over into the final week of the season.

“There was a different team out there for an entire game,” he said the Trappers’ performance against Central.

The win was a big bounce back for the Trappers (15-12, 5-9 in Region IX North) after they gave up a 16-point second-half lead and lost 79-78 to Sheridan Feb. 12.

“When you lost a game like that you lose a little bit in yourself,” Erickson said. “To come back and respond, it’s pretty big for our team to do that.”

But the Central game, as big as it was, was just one game, something Erickson reminded his team on Monday.

“You feel good, you got a win, but it’s just another game,” Erickson told his players. “You gotta forget about it and start thinking about Little Big Horn.”

The Trappers hosted the eighth-place Little Big Horn (13-15, 5-9) at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (after press time). A win over the Rams would mean the Trappers could be in position to jump Western Wyoming (12-15, 6-8) when the Mustangs come to town for a 5 p.m. game on Saturday.

Despite a 4-7 record in 2014 the Trappers can still finish as high as fourth in their division.

“Having two home games against two teams we’re competing with for those spots, we feel pretty good about that,” Erickson said.

Of course, they can also finish as low as eighth (of nine).

Western Wyoming, Central Wyoming and Miles Community College are all tied for fourth place with 6-8 conference records, one game ahead of Northwest. All three of those teams have two games remaining, and do not play each other. If each loses out and finishes 6-10, a 7-9 Northwest team would hurdle them all.

“Last year we won a few more games but still ended up fifth going into the tournament,” Erickson said. “If we can get two more this week ... we’d just feel good about going into the tournament on a winning streak.”

Erickson said he is proud of the effort he’s seen from his guys over the past few games.

“They want it,” he said. “At this time of year it’s tough, because it’s such a long year you get some kids that check out. But I think this team still has a lot of fight in them.”

Sophomore Gabe Solarin was money from outside as he made 5-of-7 3-point attempts and scored a team-high 19 points. He also had four steals and three boards.

Gary Gordon continued his hot streak with 18 points, including 10-of-11 from the free throw line. The sophomore point guard has now scored in double-digits in nine straight games, and has had at least 15 in eight of the past nine.

Gordon’s six rebounds tied sophomore Franklin Uzonwanne for the team-high.

Lawrence Fejokwu had 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks. It was Fejokwu’s third straight game with at least three blocks.

Erickson praised Fejowku’s defensive impact.

“He changes shots,” Erickson said. “He may only have three blocks but he changes a bunch of other ones.”

On Feb. 12 the Trappers fended off the Sheridan comeback as long as they could, but in the end it was yet another heartbreaking loss.

Sheridan’s Jamir Andrews hit a 3-pointer with 13.7 seconds remaining to give the Generals the win over Northwest Feb. 12 in the Cabre Gym.

The Trappers turned it over on their next possession when Gary Gordon drove down the right side of the lane and lost control, followed by the ball, which went out of bounds.

Gordon yelled for a foul but the referee ignored his plea.

Sheridan (23-5, 11-3) threw a long inbounds pass over the heads of all five Trappers and the Generals dribbled out the last 3.6 seconds to hand Northwest its fourth straight loss.

It was the Trappers’ third conference loss of five or less points.

“It’s the type of losses we’ve had that makes it a lot tougher,” Erickson said.

The coach said he believes his team got wrapped up in the emotion of the game. With the Northwest crowd dressed in red “Cabre Crazies” T-shirts and reacting loudly to every high and low, the Trappers were caught up in the moment.

Erickson said it’s important to “keep your pulse going but don’t let the outside things affect you and keep playing.”

Andrews’ game-winner put Sheridan, which trailed by as many as 16 in the second half, ahead for the first time since leading 17-16 eight minutes into the game.

The game was tied at 18 halfway through the first half when the Trappers began a 14-4 run that put them up 32-22 with 5:34 left in the period. Sheridan cut it back down to eight before a Cody McCoy 3-pointer put Northwest back up 11.

Northwest led 41-32 at the half.

The Trappers kept the pedal to the floor by scoring the second half’s first seven points. Northwest maintained its double-digit lead until the Generals went on a 10-5 run between the 12:05 and 8:33 marks to cut the lead to 57-49.

The Trapper backcourt struggled with Sheridan’s press, which led to NWC turnovers that sparked the Generals’ rally.

Sheridan had not pressed at all up to that point and took Northwest by surprise.

“I think we panicked a little bit and just didn’t make plays,” Erickson said. “We got to be more fundamentally sound in those situations.”

Northwest seemed to have an answer for every Sheridan push and went back up 12 with 6:30 to go, but from that point on they couldn’t stop the Generals from chipping away at, and ultimately taking, the lead.

Gordon scored 22 points for the second straight game to lead all scorers. He was 8-of-12 from the field and 6-for-8 from the foul line. He also had eight rebounds, a steal and seven turnovers.

Solarin scored 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting to go with three rebounds, a steal and five turnovers.

The Trappers didn’t have to rely solely on their guards for offense though, as post players Fejokwu and Franklin Uzonwanne both had big nights for Northwest.

Fejokwu was second in scoring with 18 points and tied Gordon with eight rebounds. His three blocks were a game high as were his two assists.

Uzonwanne added 10 points and two rebounds in 20 minutes of play. The 6-7 sophomore also drew six fouls on the Generals.

The Trappers were 52 percent from the field but their strong shooting did not carry to the free throw line, where Northwest was just 23-of-39 (59 percent) for the game, including 11-of-22 in the second half.

“We’ve talked about it all year,” the coach said “It’s the small things that hurt us. It comes down to free throw shooting and turnovers.”

The Trappers committed 25 turnovers against the Generals and “a lot of those ended up as points on the other end,” Erickson said. “That was a big, big turn for that second half.”

Only Gordon, Uzonwanne (6-for-11) and KJ Rech (2-for-2) shot better than 50 percent from the line.

Sheridan shot 65.6 percent (21-of-32) from the line.

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