The Odessa College Wranglers may be winning ugly, but the main thing is they are winning.

The Wranglers remained unbeaten in the Western Junior College Athletic Conference men’s basketball race Thursday with a 70-65 victory over Howard College at the OC Sports Center, holding off the Hawks over a tense final minute.

The Wranglers (16-2 overall, 5-0 WJCAC) saw a big early lead evaporate before halftime, then had to overcome a six-point deficit in the second half to remain atop the conference standings.

“Early, it was 17-4 and we were in a flow,” Odessa College coach Tra Arnold said. “I thought at a point we got soft and they battled back into the game.

“We’re lucky the guys had enough resilience there at the end. It was a low-scoring game, a possession game, lot of fouls called. We missed a lot of free throws (finishing 19 of 35).”

L.J. Figueroa had 27 points and seven rebounds to lead the Wranglers, while Josh Boyd added 12 points off the bench in his first game for Odessa College and Braxton Shaw scored 10 points.

Howard College (14-6, 2-4) was led by Amari McCray with 14 points, while Andre Ferguson added 11 points and Jeremy Hayes had 10.

The Wranglers protected their slim lead in the WJCAC standings ahead of South Plains College (5-1) and Clarendon College (4-1), but Arnold said the conference race isn’t the focal point just yet.

“Everybody talks about it and I really prepare, but you don’t even know until you get into it 10 or 12 (games) deep where it’s really going to stand,” Arnold said.

“We were fortunate to win tonight’s game. We found a way to win. We’ve just got to continue to gradually get better throughout the year.”

Odessa College took its biggest lead on Figueroa’s 3-pointer with 12:25 left in the first half. The Hawks responded with a 23-6 run, taking their first lead at 25-23 on Derrick Green’s basket with 2:30 remaining, but the Wranglers scored the last five points of the half to take a 28-27 lead into the break.

Howard College started the second half with four fouls in the first minute, putting Odessa College in the bonus at the 17:28 mark and the double bonus less than five minutes into the half. The Wranglers were unable to take advantage, making 13 of 25 free throws the rest of the way.

Down 39-33 with 14 minutes to go, Odessa College pulled even on 3-pointers by Figueroa and Boyd. After five lead changes and three more ties, the Wranglers took the lead for good at 56-53 on Figueroa’s 3-pointer with 4:27 remaining.

Even with an eight-point lead in the final 20 seconds, Odessa College could rest easy as Howard College cut the margin to four on Diamond Onwuka’s 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left.

“We’ve got a lot of room for improvement,” Arnold said. “That was our fourth game back from break, adding two new guys (Boyd and Alonzo Walker). But even Kelvin Jones and Jahnathan Maxwell didn’t play the first semester.

“We’re still trying to figure out different rotations, but we had enough in us tonight to get a win. Luckily, we made plays to help us figure out a way to win.”

Odessa College 70, Howard College 65

HOWARD COLLEGE (14-6, 2-4)

Amari McCray 7-15 0-1 14, Jeremy Hayes 1-5 8-8 10, Andre Ferguson 3-5 4-6 11, Derrick Green 2-5 0-0 4, Jake Hutchings 2-5 0-0 6, Andrija Blatancic 2-2 3-5 7, Jack Pagenkopf 2-7 0-2 4, Diamond Onwuka 1-2 0-0 3, Cameron Fields 0-0 0-0 0, Christian Fields 0-0 0-0 0, RicQuail Smoot 2-5 2-2 6. Totals 22-51 17-24 65.

ODESSA COLLEGE (16-2, 5-0)

Kejuan Johnson 2-5 2-4 7, Jermaine Haley 1-6 2-3 4, Keandre Cook 0-5 4-6 4, L.J. Figueroa 11-16 2-4 27, Kelvin Jones 0-1 3-5 3, J.J. Simpson 1-2 0-1 2, Braxton Shaw 3-4 2-2 10, Alonzo Walker 0-0 0-0 0, Jahnathan Maxwell 0-1 1-4 1, Josh Boyd 3-5 3-6 12. Totals 21-45 19-35 70.

Halftime — Odessa College 28, Howard College 27. 3-Point goals — Howard College 4-11 (Hayes 0-1, Ferguson 1-2, Green 0-1, Hutchings 2-4, Pagenkopf 0-2, Onwuka 1-1), Odessa College 9-22 (Johnson 1-4, Haley 0-2, Cook 0-2, Figueroa 3-5, Simpson 0-1, Shaw 2-3, Boyd 3-5). Total fouls — Howard College 24, Odessa College 22. Fouled out — Green. Technical fouls — none. Rebounds — Howard College 25 (Hutchings 5), Odessa College 36 (Figueroa 7). Assists — Howard College 12 (Pagenkopf 5), Odessa College 13 (Haley 6).