Northern Men Win Final Home Game, Even Record At 11-11

by Staff Reporter / Jan 29, 2018 / comments
Northern New Mexico College’s Bryce Simmons drive in for a layup against Johnson & Wales. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Northern Men Win Final Home Game, Even Record At 11-11

By George Morse Sports and Outdoors

The Northern New Mexico College men’s basketball team picked up a pair of key Association of Independent Institutions (AII) Conference victories by sweeping two games against Johnson & Wales University of Denver. The Eagles beat the Wildcats 66-62 in the first game Jan. 26, then decisively defeated Johnson & Wales 99-70 Jan. 27 in Española. It was the final two home games for the Eagles this season.

Defense was the key in the Eagles’ first victory. Northern had a poor night shooting the basketball, making just 2-of-19 shots from beyond the three-point arc. The Eagles made up for their lack of accuracy by forcing 24 turnovers that led to 21 points. The Eagles came up with 17 steals to just 10 for the Wildcats. 

Northern trailed 30-29 at halftime. Depth proved to be a factor as Johnson and Wales only had five points off the bench, while the Eagles had 14 points from their reserves. Three of the Wildcats’ starters (Jontrell Herman, Andrew Romero III, King Grant-Perry) played more than 30 minutes, while the most minutes played by any of Northern’s starters was 27 by Walid Aly.

Northern New Mexico College’s Walid Aly scored 16 points against Johnson & Wales University. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

“We go 14 deep,” Northern Coach Ryan Cordova said. “My feeling was let’s tire them out. We used full-court pressure.”

As bad as Northern’s three-point shooting was in the first game, the Eagles were red-hot from beyond the arc in the second game. Northern sank 10 of their 16 three-point attempts in the first half. The depth showed itself as eight different players sank three-pointers for the Eagles. The score was tied 9-9 in the first half when Nico Burgard nailed a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 12-9 lead. Northern never trailed after that. The first of two three–pointers in the first half by Augustus Cuch pushed Northern’s lead to 39-18. After the Wildcats cut the lead to 43-24, Aly and Elijah Neumann hit three-pointers and Cuch drained his second trey to give the Eagles 52-26 lead.

Johnson & Wales had one last run left in them and the Wildcats ran off 12 unanswered points to cut the lead down to 14 points. The Eagles led 58-40 at halftime.

“We focused on getting our feet underneath us and taking good shots,” Coach Cordova said. “I think we really wore them down last night.”

In the second half, the Wildcats had cut the lead to 60-48 when a three-pointer by Tyrique Weaver kicked off an 11-0 run by the Eagles that put Northern firmly in control of the game. The worn-out Wildcats fell further behind. Northern had another flurry of three-pointers near the end of the game. David Chaloupka and Braxton Bouyer dropped long bombs on Johnson & Wales. When Cuch nailed his third three-pointer of the game, the Eagles had a 99-69 lead. The crowd wanted 100 points, but Ezini Ugbisien opted not to try to score as the final seconds ticked off.

Northern New Mexico College’s Dominique Josephs goes up for two points against Johnson & Wales. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

Showcasing Northern’s depth, 14 players put points in the score book for the Eagles. There were five players in double figures. Aly led the way with 16 points. Bryce Simmons scored 12 points and Dominique Josephs had 11 points for the Eagles. Chaloupka and Lucas Chavez each had 10 points for Northern.

Northern New Mexico College’s Lucas Chavez gets fouled under the basket against Johnson & Wales. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post

For the season, Simmons leads the Eagles in scoring, averaging 14.5 points-per-game.

Northern evened its season record at 11-11. More importantly, the Eagles improved to 4-0 in the Association of Independent Institutions Conference and are in first place. That puts them in prime position to advance to the Conference tournament, which consists of the top six teams. The top three teams from the Conference tournament will advance to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Division Two National Championships.

The Eagles will take on a big university Tuesday (1/30) when they travel to Las Cruces to face the New Mexico State University Aggies. Northern then travels to Denver, where they will face Conference rivals Haskell Indian Nations University and College of the Ozarks Friday and Saturday, respectively.

They will return to Denver Feb. 6 for a two-game rematch with Johnson &Wales.

After a somewhat rocky start while playing against bigger schools, the Eagles have won their last six games. The team has matured over the course of the season, contributing to their success.

“At the beginning of the season, they were playing a little selfishly,” Coach Cordva said. “They’ve come together and understand their roles. They spend time with each other. They’re a blue-collar team. They come out and work every single day.”

Northern New Mexico College’s Kevin Moore drives and shoots against Johnson & Wales. Photo by George Morse for the Valley Daily Post