It’s been a season of extremes for the Northwest College men’s basketball program, with incredible highs and head-scratching lows coming in equal measure.
After an emotional, team-defining win against previously undefeated and nationally ranked Gillette College late last month, the Trappers returned to earth last week with back-to-back conference losses. The missteps drop NWC to 12-12 on the season, 3-5 in conference. With just six games remaining in the regular season, head coach Brian Erickson said his team needs to figure out how to right the ship — and fast.
“I can say it’s Xs and Os, and I know everybody can run a play, and get in the right spots on defense,” Erickson said. “But I think it’s a mindset. Somehow we gotta change a little bit, get guys playing with a little bit more fight, with a little bit more heart ... It doesn’t really matter what we practice today, it’s about how they prepare themselves to come out and grind.”
Sheridan College 89, Trappers 84
The Trappers hosted their second-straight nationally ranked team Wednesday, Jan. 31, as Sheridan College took the court at Cabre Gym. NWC, still riding high from the upset over Gillette, played the Generals (20-3, 6-2) to a virtual stalemate for most of the game before falling in the closing minutes, 89-84. The game featured 10 ties and 10 lead changes before the final buzzer.
“We did some really good things, there was just a couple of minutes in the first half and about four in the second that we just tried to play their game,” Erickson said. “We started going back and forth on offense, not playing together defensively.”
The Trappers held a slim 41-40 lead at the break, but Sheridan outplayed their hosts down the stretch and held on for the win.
“I think it was the difference in the game,” Erickson said, adding, “There were a lot of things on the stat lines that were in our favor, things that you would think you’d win a game based on that. We just didn’t have 40 minutes like we did against Gillette. It was a very similar game, we just didn’t quite put it together.”
Officiating was also a factor in the game, according to Erickson — though not one he’ll use as an excuse.
“The only thing I ever ask is consistency,” the coach said. “I think that game wasn’t very consistent, and I think each team was affected by it a little bit.”
That said, a team has to be able to adapt and play accordingly.
“No matter what, we still had our chances to win that game,” Erickson said. “I don’t think we took advantage of them.”
Four Trappers finished in double digits for the game, led by a 23-point, three-assist performance by Lagio Grantsaan. Reme Torbert and Luc Lombardy netted 17 points apiece, including three 3-pointers from Lombardy, who also grabbed seven rebounds to lead the team. Calvin Fugett rounded out the double-digit scoring with 15, to go along with a game-high six assists.
“Lagio [Grantsaan] had a really, really good night,” Erickson said. “Reme [Torbert] and Luc [Lombardy] were both really good, and I think Calvin [Fugett] started playing a lot better. He’s finishing at the rim, able to take the ball off the dribble a little bit. Those four were probably our best. We need a few more guys to step up.”
Despite coming up short, Erickson said he liked what he saw from his team against Sheridan, and hopes the Trappers will learn from the loss and move forward.
“A game like that is a good emphasis on how much each possession matters, and how much each second matters,” Erickson said. “It was a good learning experience for us. Playing two top-25 teams and almost getting both of them at home is great, but we just didn’t quite have enough in that one.”
Western Wyoming 92, Trappers 74
After a pair of close, tough games, the Trappers found themselves on the wrong side of a one-sided contest Saturday on the road against Western Wyoming Community College. Bringing a buzzsaw of shooters who “couldn’t miss,” according to Erickson, the Mustangs (12-10, 5-3) swept the season series against NWC with a 92-74 win.
“Their shooting percentage was ridiculous,” Erickson explained. “I think some of that was our defense wasn’t great, but they had some guys that overall were just killing it.”
Western Wyoming shot an impressive 56 percent from the field, 50 percent from behind the arc and 73 percent at the foul line, jumping out to a 41-26 halftime lead. The Trappers kept it close in the final frame but were unable to cut into the Mustangs’ first-half lead, as WWCC coasted to an 18-point victory.
“It was a tough game, but again, I don’t think we played physical enough, especially in the first half,” Erickson said. “We told the guys at the half we needed to be more aggressive; we just didn’t make those adjustments. They outplayed us, and were the more physical team.”
Erickson said the Trappers also got away from playing together as a team, a process the players have been buying into, but was missing against the Mustangs.
“It was a tough one, we didn’t execute what we do well,” he said. “We’re going to have to figure out what was going on and get back to the drawing board on that.”
The game was not without a few bright spots, as four Trappers once again finished in double digits on the score sheet. Torbert led the way with 17 points, followed by 14 from Fugett, to go along with his three steals and two assists. Grantsaan and Lombardy netted 12 apiece, with Lombardy knocking down four shots from behind the arc.
The Trappers were in Riverton Wednesday to square off against Central Wyoming College, and will return to Cabre Gym Saturday for a game against Little Big Horn College, beginning at 4 p.m. Erickson stressed the importance of both these games as his team looks to finish the season strong.
“These last couple of games were disappointing in that we had taken positive steps forward, and now we’ve taken a couple of steps back,” he said. “This week’s pretty important for us to take some more positive steps.”