Ed Petruska-Contributing Writer Pinal Central
SIGNAL PEAK — A valiant second-half comeback by the Central Arizona College men's basketball team came up a wee bit short on Wednesday night.
Trailing by 16 points at halftime, the Vaqueros pulled within two of Cochise before running out of steam in a 94-89 loss at the George Young Activity Center.
Chris Whitaker scored 31 points for the Apaches, who have won eight straight. They are 18-4 overall and atop the Arizona Community College Athletic Conference with a 12-2 mark.
Richard Polanco led the Vaqueros (7-15, 5-9 ACCAC) with 23 points, getting 19 in the second half. Quincy Smith finished with 20 points, Andrew Leonard had 12 on four 3-pointers and Meekness Payne scored 10. Polanco's point total tied his season high.
Central Arizona vs. Cochise men's basketball 1/30/19
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The Apaches were up 55-39 at halftime. But the Vaqueros came charging back.
Polanco provided eight points during an 11-1 run that ended with Polanco's three-point play as CAC narrowed the deficit to 66-64 with 10:50 left.
The Apaches didn't let the Vaqueros get any closer. They extended the margin to 10 points at 84-74 on a 3-pointer by Mahki Morris with 4:45 remaining and outscored Central 6-1 after Polanco's second-chance basket trimmed the deficit to 88-85 with 1:51 to play.
"We dug ourselves a big hole (in the first half) with turnovers and (poor) defense," CAC coach Tramaine Aaron said. "We didn't do ourselves any favors. In the second half, we regained our focus. We showed a lot of fight."
Central came into the game tied with Eastern Arizona in the battle for the fourth and final Division I Region 1 tournament berth. The Vaqueros have lost three straight, starting with a 93-90 heartbreaker at Arizona Western (10-3 ACCAC going into Wednesday night's play).
Aaron said the Vaqueros just have to keep plugging away.
"When it gets the toughest, that's when we have to come together the most," he said. "We have to maintain our focus every day, no matter if it's a two-minute meeting, a practice or a game."
Morris scored 22 points for the Apaches. He came in averaging 19.9, second-most in the ACCAC. Jamaure Gregg had 14 points, Naje Smith scored 12 and Jalun Trent had 10.
Cochise attempted 36 free throws, making 27. Central went 14 for 21 from the line.