Ed Petruska-Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — Trailing by seven points with eight minutes remaining in the first half of Saturday's game against Eastern Arizona, the situation was "a test of fortitude" for the Central Arizona College men's basketball team.
"It was an opportunity for our guys to prove they wanted to win," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said.
The Vaqueros did just that, rallying for an 88-82 victory at the George Young Activity Center.
"I was proud of them for coming together, digging in and finishing the game," Aaron said. "I hope we build on this positivity," specifically on Wednesday when CAC travels to Yuma to face Arizona Western.
"I don't want to look beyond that because we haven't been able to build much consistency," Aaron said. "We need to focus on one game at a time."
The Vaqueros are 5-6 going into the second go-around of Arizona Community College Athletic Conference play. They entered Saturday's play tied with Eastern and trailing third-place Mesa by one game.
Quincy Smith had a huge second half as CAC (7-12 overall) pulled away from the Gila Monsters. He scored 21 of his game-high 23 points in the final 20 minutes, hitting seven field goals — including one 3-pointer — and going 6 for 8 from the line.
"Quincy gave us some good minutes," Aaron said. "His energy level definitely raised everybody. He was being aggressive, he hit some shots and he drew some fouls."
James Burns led Eastern with 22 points, followed by Collin Kelley with 16, Rayvaughn Bolton with 15, Amari Hale with 12 and Amari Stafford with 11.
The Gila Monsters (11-7, 4-7 ACCAC) went up 27-20 before the Vaqueros rallied to take a 42-40 halftime lead on two free throws by Canahuate with 4.8 seconds left. Central closed the half with a 9-2 run, going ahead for the first time at 40-38 on Leonard's 3-pointer with 1:20 left.
Leonard made three 3-pointers and had 13 points in the first half, but Eastern elected to keep close tabs on him in the second half.
"They really tried to take him out of the game and we had to use that to our advantage," Aaron said. "It allowed other guys to step up."
There were four lead changes and four ties in the second half. Neither team led by more than two until a driving layup by Canahuate put CAC ahead 55-51 with 12:07 remaining.
Stafford's 3-pointer gave the Gila Monsters their last lead at 63-62 with 8:22 left. Smith's basket on the ensuing possession put the Vaqueros ahead to stay at 64-63, then Canahuate hit a 3-pointer with 7:46 remaining to help CAC build a five-point cushion.
The margin reached eight points on three occasions, the last time at 82-74 on two free throws by Smith with 2:01 to play.