COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Odessa College defeats New Mexico Junior College

The Odessa College men’s basketball team kept its conference championship hopes alive with a tough 77-69 win over New Mexico Junior College Thursday at the OC Sports Center.

With the win, the No. 9-ranked Wranglers remain just two wins behind first place South Plains College as Odessa College improved to 21-4 overall, 9-2 in WJCAC.

The Thunderbirds fell to 18-7, 5-6.

“I thought we shot the ball better in the second half which helped us,” Odessa College head coach Kris Baumann said. “I thought their zone kept us off balance. I thought we had a great start and then they went zone and we didn’t handle it very well. I thought Dylan Sanders shot the ball really well. I thought Brandon Maclin made some good 3-pointers and Willie Lightfoot stepped up when the game was on the line. I thought we made our free throws when the game was on the line. That’s a good basketball and a talented one. It’s one more night in the WJCAC.”

The Wranglers were led in scoring by Lightfoot’s 21 points while Maclin had 19 and Sanders finished with 16.

The Thunderbirds were led by Jeremiah Cherry’s 13 points while Leo Torbor and Luca Barei each had 10.

The Wranglers took an 18-7 lead in the first half.

After a scoring drought by Odessa College, Esyah Pippa-White was sent to the line where he made both free throws to give Odessa College a 20-10 lead with 8:21 left in the half.

A dunk by Jordan Ray soon after gave the Wranglers a 12-point lead.

Odessa College’s lead was only 28-24 at the half.

Things would not get any easier for the Wranglers at the start of the second half.

The Thunderbirds used a 12-6 run to take a 36-34 lead with 15:13 left.

Barei scored a 3-pointer to make it 40-36 with 13:42 to go.

Pippa-White was whistled for a technical foul, sending Deuce Benjamin to the line where he made one of his two free throws, giving the Thunderbirds a 43-38 lead with 12:42 remaining.

Maclin drove straight to the basket for a layup off an offensive rebound to put Odessa College at a four-point deficit.

Barei scored on a layup to put the Thunderbirds ahead 48-44 with 9:30 remaining.

Leo Torbor added to New Mexico Junior College’s lead shortly after.

A 3-pointer by Dylan Sanders tied things up at 53 and suddenly there was new life on the floor for the Wranglers with 6:48 left.

Maclin’s 3-pointer put the Wranglers ahead 56-53 soon after.

Damonze Woods gave the hosts another three-point lead with his inside shot and Ray followed it up with another dunk.

Lightfoot’s 3-pointer made it 63-56 with 3:02 left.

However, Benjamin was fouled by Sanders while making a 3-pointer. He missed the free throw and the Wranglers’ lead was at four with less than three minutes remaining.

Lightfoot added another outside shot to extend the Wranglers’ lead with 2:17 left on the clock.

Odessa College wouldn’t trail for the remainder of the game.

“I’m happy that we won,” Baumann said. “It’s February. Anytime you’re in February, all you care about is winning. Sometimes, you win ugly. But I thought we played better in the second half.”

The Wranglers will next face New Mexico Military Institute at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Roswell, N.M.

The Thunderbirds will next be at home against Howard College at 7:30 p.m. Monday in Hobbs, N.M.