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Loss to Gauchos damages playoff hopes for Vaqueros

Andrew Leonard hits for 13 in Saturday night at home.
Andrew Leonard hits for 13 in Saturday night at home.

Ed Petruska

SIGNAL PEAK — An 85-80 loss on Saturday ended a three-game winning streak for the Central Arizona College men's basketball team. More importantly, it put a crimp in the Vaqueros' bid to qualify for postseason play.

Former Maricopa High School star Joshuwan Johnson scored 24 points in leading Glendale to victory at the George Young Activity Center. Johnson, a 5-foot-7 freshman, had a dazzling second half, scoring 22 points on the strength of three 3-pointers and 9-of-10 shooting from the free throw line.

"We told our guys it was coming," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said of the second-half burst by Johnson, who came in averaging 17.3 points. "They knew what to expect."

Central entered the game tied with Mesa and Eastern Arizona in the race for the final two berths in the four-team Division I Region 1 tournament. The Vaqueros (10-17, 8-11 Arizona Community College Athletic Conference) have three games left before the playoffs start.

"We have to shake this one off," Aaron said. "We need to regain our focus, find that fight within ourselves and be ready to compete."

Trailing 45-39 at halftime, Central took its only lead of the second half with 10:09 remaining. Andrew Leonard sank a 3-pointer to make it 60-59 after Cory Deveaux hit a 3 on CAC's previous possession.

Glendale answered with a 3-pointer by Chris Mullaney that put the Gauchos ahead to stay at 62-60 with 9:36 left. Glendale made 11 3-pointers in the game.

"They hit some big shots, but we had a lot of defensive breakdowns," Aaron said. "That's where we need to improve and make adjustments."

Six players reached double figures for the Vaqueros to pick up the slack for leading scorer Richard Polanco (13.5 points), who missed the game due to disciplinary reasons. Malachi Faison led the way with 18 points, followed by Leonard with 13, Quincy Smith and JC Canahuate with 11 apiece and Deveaux and Meekness Payne with 10 each.

"Offense was not the problem," Aaron said. "We got good looks and we were able to get to the basket. Our defense just wasn't great."

Mullaney and Caleb Edwards both scored 11 points for the Gauchos (15-11, 9-10 ACCAC). Landon Griffith had 10 points for Glendale, which has five wins in its last six games.

Glendale, which defeated CAC 97-94 in their Jan. 9 matchup, led 45-39 at halftime. Johnson's 3-pointer put the Gauchos up 75-66 with 6:51 remaining.

The Vaqueros trimmed the margin to three points five times over the next five minutes, the last time at 83-80 on Smith's basket with 1:46 to play, but could get no closer.

Central faces Phoenix on the road and Scottsdale at home this week prior to the Feb. 26 regular-season finale at Eastern. The Vaqueros are 6-4 on their home court.

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