Mustangs split 1-and-1 in opening week of NIAA play
NEEDLES — The Mustangs varsity basketball team split their NIAA 2A South League opening week, beating Laughlin 70-51 on Dec. 4 then losing to The Meadows 53-35 on Dec. 8.
Both games were played in the Needles Corral.
Laughlin’s Cougars trailed 15-8 in the first quarter then lit up the scoreboard in the second to take a 30-27 advantage into the halftime break.
Coach Paul Duchaineau admitted to administering one of his fast-becoming-famous halftime pep talks to his Mustangs, who trotted onto the court ready to trample the Cougars in the second half to bring the new Needles coach his first win in his first game in his home gym.
Laughlin tried everything, including the press, to slow the local boys down in the second half. Duchaineau’s boys quickly figured out how to get the ball to Nathan Rodriguez, who would arrow down the middle of the court shaking defenders off on either side.
“They’ll try to trap you against the sideline,” Duchaineau observed.
Rodriguez and Dawsen Yeager scored 24 points each in the game; Trevyn Diaz added 13. Diego Trujillo led the Cougars with 19; Josh Furr scored 13 and Tyrell Gonzalez added nine.
The Mustangs scored 20 and 23 in quarters three and four while holding Laughlin to nine and 12. Needles boys went 13 for 19 from the free throw line; Laughlin’s boys went seven for 19.
Needles looked good in the first half of the game against The Meadows’s Mustangs. Down 16-9 after the first quarter the boys closed the gap to 23-22 at halftime.
The hole in the bucket froze shut in the second half. “They worked really hard,” Duchaineau said. “They’re a hard-working group but the shots just didn’t fall.”
The Meadows outscored Needles 15-5, 15-8 in the last two quarters for the win.
Needles’ Nathan Rodriguez kept doggedly shooting the basketball until a thaw finally came. He tied The Meadows’ Joe Epstien (4) at 18 points to lead the scoring. Daniel Felix added eight for Needles, Dawsen Yeager totaled six.
Bensen Parker scored 10, Allen Friedman nine for The Meadows. Obinna Ezeonaluc, at six feet six inches by far the tallest player on the court, was held to seven.
“We’ve got a few things we’ve got to work out on defense,” Duchaineau said after the game. “Communication, I think, hurt us today. And for rebounding we’ve got to box out. We’re never going to be taller than another team. If we don’t box out we’re going to get hurt.”
Needles was still playing without its two big men in the post. Semaj Howell was expected back on Monday; Doogie Harvey later in the week. “I think Semaj would have added a lot to the mix and Doogie, of course, is a physical player. He would have helped us,” Duchaineau said. Both stand six feet three inches and are a commanding presence in the post at either end of the court.
“The problem we have is we get out-rebounded under the basket,” Duchaineau continued. “We work on rebounding drills in practice but they have a tendency to forget, sometimes, when they’re out in the game.”
Layups, surprisingly enough, were another problem. “We probably missed six or seven layups,” Duchaineau said. “We practice layups every day. The team is very, very young but they’ll gain experience in game situations.”
The Mustangs take to the road this week, facing Parker on Dec. 17.
They return to The Corral to host NIAA foes Mountain View at 3 (JV) and 6 p.m. Dec. 18; then Lincoln County at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. in the last game before Christmas break on Dec. 20.