SIGNAL PEAK — The Central Arizona College men's basketball team was coming off a huge road victory and hoping to have some much-needed momentum going into the second go-round of Arizona Community College Athletic Conference play.
The Vaqueros' bid for a major upset fell short, however, as South Mountain rallied for a 76-72 win on Saturday at the George Young Activity Center.
Central (6-12, 2-9 ACCAC) owned a 32-28 halftime lead over the Cougars (15-4, 8-3) and went ahead 43-38 on a second-chance basket by Danny Garrick with 14:11 to play. South Mountain responded with a 15-5 surge to go up 53-48.
Following Cedric Cotton's basket that trimmed the deficit to 53-50 with 9:32 remaining, the Cougars scored eight unanswered points. Darvis Fletcher's second-chance basket capped the flurry, which extended South Mountain's lead to 61-50 with 6:43 left.
The Vaqueros made a late push, whittling the deficit to 73-69 on the second of back-to-back 3-pointers by Andrew Leonard with 24.3 seconds remaining. But the Cougars went 3 for 4 from the line in the final 13.4 seconds to secure the win.
"We've lost four or five games in the same fashion, where we have some great stretches and some bad stretches," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. "We have big breakdowns at key times. It boils down to communication and (court) awareness."
The Vaqueros defeated host Eastern Arizona 79-66 on Wednesday. Their only other win against a conference opponent came on Dec. 2 at Tohono O'odham (90-88).
"This was a big opportunity where a win would have really helped us out," Aaron said. "We're going to have to step it up in the second half."
Leonard was CAC's top scorer with 15 points, getting 11 in the second half. He hit three of the Vaqueros' eight 3-pointers.
Matt Morgan led the Cougars with 15 points, followed by Bryan Battle with 12 and Brian Rodriguez with 11. Morgan scored 11 second-half points, getting two on a dunk that extended South Mountain's lead to 71-63 with 1:16 left.
The Vaqueros missed their first five shots of the game and fell behind 16-7 in the early going. Mattia Cafisi's basket with 9:15 remaining in the first half capped a 10-1 run and gave Central its first lead at 17-16. Down 26-25, CAC regained the lead on back-to-back baskets by Deveaux.
Central remains in the hunt for the fourth and final Division I Region 1 tournament berth despite its struggles. Eastern also was 2-8 going into Saturday's games. Cochise (8-2), Arizona Western (7-3) and Mesa (6-4) are the other D-I teams in the ACCAC.