PENDLETON — The first half looked surgical the way Blue Mountain Community College gutted the Treasure Valley Community College defense and stymied the responding attacks. The Timberwolves climbed ahead by more than 20 points before pulling into halftime comfortably at 41-24.
“We were limiting them to one shot; I think we gave up only two offensive rebounds in that whole first half,” BMCC men’s basketball coach Adam Ellis said.
The game was the first NWAACC East Region contest of the season for either team.
TVCC (6-7, 0-1 NWAACC-E) shot terribly in the first 20-minute half and each time a Chukar attempt banged off the rim or the backboard, a Blue Mountain body was below ready to gobble up the loose rebound. Both those factors flipped in the second half. Treasure Valley shot 58 percent in the half — after making just 24 percent of its shots earlier — and soared back into relevance.
Blue Mountain (7-6, 1-0 NWAACC-E) held a 10-point advantage at 60-50 before Treasure Valley’s defense sparked an 18-4 run that not only handed them the lead, but also gassed the T-Wolves to the brink of extinction. With less than six minutes to play, the Chukars had stolen the energy from the gym and used it to fuel an unlikely comeback.
“We just needed to play how we usually play,” said TVCC sophomore guard Marck Coffin, who scored 20 points with 14 coming in the second half. “(At halftime), we just told each other to fight, to keep coming.
“We’ve let teams get up on us that shouldn’t get up on us before,” he added.
And while the Chukars were rallying their troops, BMCC was settling in for what they expected to be more of the same. That was the problem, Blue Mountain’s Darius Butler said.
“We had to calm ourselves down. They weren’t doing anything differently; it was us,” said Butler, a freshman guard from Murieta, Calif.
But the T-Wolves were in need of more than a massage and some deep breathing exercises. Only baskets could fix this problem, the way they’d come so easily earlier.
Following the Chukars’ run, Leroy Abraham III got the call for Blue Mountain. Abraham III scored all but two of his points in one stretch, a long 3-point shot and a shorter 15-foot jumper bookending a pair of TVCC free throws to pull the Timberwolves to within a point. Moments later, Nate Walker stuck with another 3-pointer to put a harness on the momentum and the lead for the home team.
When Butler hit a basket two possessions later, BMCC’s seven-point run had given them the cushion they needed. Butler and Jaquan Coleman would add three more free-throw points between them to finish up the battle — Butler’s pair coming in place of an injured Coleman, who got twisted up in some defenders under the hoop with 20 seconds left on the clock. Butler sunk both ends of a 1-and-1 opportunity to give the game its final score.
Butler finished with 22 points, a game high, and also grabbed nine rebounds. BMCC held a 50-35 rebounding advantage with Dylan Martin (12 rebounds) and Walker (11) both in double digits. Martin scored 10 points, all in the first half, and Tyler Adams scored 14. Coleman scored 12.
Treasure Valley had one last possession with six seconds of game clock left, but with the Timberwolves pressuring the inbounds pass, TVCC’s De’Sean Mattox stepped out of bounds on the catch to turn the ball over and clinch the decision.
The win didn’t come by the prettiest of performances for coach Ellis’ squad and the Pendleton team has had a tendency to let leads slip away in the waning moments, he said, ticking off fingers representing several of this season’s losses.
The foundation of Blue Mountain’s roster is freshman-based, with only two sophomores sprinkled in between. They’re still learning to put the foot down and not let opponents back in, Ellis said.
“We’re a real emotional team,” he said. “That’s good when we’re doing well, but it’s rough when we’re having rough patches so we just need to get a little tougher.”
Following the home opener from Saturday, BMCC goes to Walla Walla to face the Warriors on Wednesday in another NWAACC-East game.
Contact AJ Mazzolini at firstname.lastname@example.org or (541) 966-0839.