ROCK SPRINGS – Less than 24 hours after notching a last-second win Friday, the Western Wyoming Community College men’s basketball team found itself with a chance to move to 5-5 on the young season. The Mustangs took on North Idaho College to wrap up the Western Wyoming Invite on Saturday night, where they ran into a talented and athletic team.

Both teams were cold from the field during a tight first half, as NIC made a late run to take a 36-30 lead into the intermission. The Cardinals extended their run into the second half to take a 55-42 lead with 10 minutes remaining, but Western came storming back to cut the deficit down to 67-64 with a minute to play. The Mustangs couldn’t get anything to fall in crunch time, though, and North Idaho College walked away with the 72-66 victory.

A couple second-half runs and timely shooting by the Cardinals made the difference in this game, but it was the Mustangs who had a better start out of halftime. On their very first possession, Trey Marble made a great dish to Eddie Creal for a baseline layup. About a minute later Sindou Cisse snagged an offensive rebound and scored to cut the deficit to 37-34.

It was still a three-point game at 42-39 when Creal split a pair of free throws and knocked down a tough pull-up jumper with 14:30 remaining. Just 15 seconds later, the Mustangs were within a point when Cisse made great move on the break to score at the rim, but the Cardinals responded with a momentum-killing run, scoring 14 of the next 15 points in a four-minute stretch.

They got hot in a hurry, as 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions pushed the lead to 50-41 and then a fast break layup made it 52-41 at the 11-minute mark. The Cardinals secured their largest lead of the game at 55-42, but Obi Agu got the Mustangs back on track by drawing a foul in the post and knocking down two free throws with 9:20 left.

WWCC kept clawing its way back into the game. Cisse put a quick dent in the deficit with eight minutes to play, as Marble found him for 3-pointers on back-to-back possessions to draw within seven at 57-50. North Idaho had the perfect response ready, though, and Emmitt Taylor hit two of his six 3s on the next two possessions to regain a comfortable 63-50 lead.

It looked like that might douse Western’s chances of winning with less than seven minutes to play, but the Mustangs had one more comeback bid in them. Agu scored on a little hook shot in the lane to start the big run, and then Cisse snagged a rebound and went coast to coast to trim the gap to 63-54.

The Cardinals scored the next four points to put WWCC back in a 13-point hole with four minutes to play, but the game was far from over. The Mustangs put a scare into NIC with 10-0 run in the next three minutes, as Cisse and Manel Ayol scored the first four with two strong finishes inside.

The deficit continued to shrink after a big play by Creal, who made the first of two free throws and then got his own rebound on the second and laid it in to make it 67-61 with 2:15 remaining. After a big defensive stop at the other end, Marble got the best of NIC’s big guys with a great scoop layup among the trees to make it a four-point game with 90 seconds to play.

NIC’s lead was all the way down to 67-64 after a free throw from Creal, but the Mustang comeback ran out of gas in the final minute. Taylor hit an ice-cold 3 for the Cardinals with 1:05 on the clock to go up 70-64, and even though Agu answered with a quick layup, a turnover on the next WWCC possession essentially ended the game. The Mustangs had to foul to stop the clock with six seconds remaining, and the two free throws that followed sealed the 72-66 win for North Idaho.

For the second straight night, Western found itself in a dogfight late despite not shooting the ball well, but a win wasn’t in the cards this time. It’s tough to win games with a 9-28 mark from the field, but the Mustangs showed some real grit and effort on defense to make a game of it late.

Cisse led the way statistically for WWCC, posting yet another impressive double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Creal also finished in double figures with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Marble was the final Mustang in double figures. He provided a nice spark in the first half with nine of his 11 points.

FIRST HALF

Turnovers were a bigger problem for the Mustangs in the opening 20 minutes, as almost half of NIC’s points came off takeaways. Even so, the Cardinals weren’t able to pull away until right before the intermission.

They had a slim 10-9 lead with about six minutes played, when sophomore Carter Rosette confidently nailed a 3 from the corner to grab the two-point lead for Western. NIC answered with a triple of its own, but Rosette found Agu with a nice in-bound assist to immediately regain the 14-13 lead with 12:15 on the clock.

That was the final lead for Western until there was about four minutes left in the half, though, as two big fastbreak dunks from the Cardinals swung the momentum a little bit. The Mustangs gave away four more easy points off turnovers near the six-minute mark, moving the deficit to 25-20, but Marble nearly erased the damage with a 3-point answer on the next possession.

The Mustangs stole the lead back with 3:50 on the clock, as Ryan Gunderson nailed a baseline jumper to make it 28-27, but the Cardinals responded with a 9-2 run to close the half.

The loss moves WWCC to 4-6 on the young season, and it has a quick chance to grab another win on Tuesday, as the team heads to Rangely, Colorado, to take on Colorado Northwestern Community College. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

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