Missed free throws costly as Hounds fall in tourney

Western State’s Justin Avalos dribbles by Eastern New Mexico University’s Dwight Collins during the first half of Friday’s semifinal matchup in the Harry Miller/ENMU Shootout at Greyhound Arena. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)

CNJ staff

Western State sophomore forward Steve Barrow converted two free throws with one minute left and Eastern New Mexico University’s men missed five consecutive free throws down the stretch Friday night, allowing the Gunnison, Colo.-based Mountaineers to escape with a 66-64 victory over the Greyhounds in the semifinals of the Harry Miller/ENMU Shootout at Greyhound Arena.

Western State (1-0) will take on Fort Hays State (Kan.) in tonight’s championship game, with ENMU (0-1) facing Washburn (Kan.) in the 8 p.m. third-place game. Fort Hays (2-0) outlasted its Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Conference rival 70-69 in overtime in the first game.

Senior forward Brandon Gilbreath led the Mountaineers with 14 points and guards Carlton Goggins and Josh Thomas added 11 apiece. Senior forward Mikal Monette scored 19 points for ENMU, while senior point guard Tristan Largent finished with 17 points and seven assists.

ENMU was 21-of-28 from the line before missing its final five attempts of the night.

The Hounds took two brief one-point leads in the first eight minutes of the second half, but spent much of the rest of the time trying to get over the hump. Guard Kevin Davis’ 3-point play tied the score 51-51 with 6:37 left, but Goggins buried a 3-pointer on the next trip to put Western State back in front.

Down 59-53, Dwight Collins’ 3-pointer with 4:02 to go started a 10-2 ENMU run that ended with another trey by Collins, giving the Hounds their biggest lead of the night at 63-61 with 2:20 left.

Justin Redman-Trotter made the first of two free throws to put ENMU up 64-63 with 1:12 left. Monette grabbed the missed second shot and was eventually fouled, but missed both shots to set the stage for Barrow’s go-ahead tosses for Western State.

Collins then went to the line with 49 seconds to go, but missed both shots. After an ENMU defensive stop, Largent had an 18-foot jumper for the win in the final seconds that was off the mark.

Gilbreath added 1-of-2 from the line with one-tenth of a second left.

ENMU struggled miserably out of the gate, making only two of its first 14 shots. The Hounds finally got untracked late in the half, making five of their last six attempts to trim a 14-point deficit to 29-26 at halftime.

Eastern’s only lead of the half came on two free throws by Largent, making it 5-4 after just over four minutes. The Hounds scored only one point over the next 5 1/2 minutes, and Western put together a 19-4 run that featured five 3-pointers — three of them by Thomas — for a 23-9 margin with eight minutes to go in the half.

Three-pointers by Largent and Redman-Trotter helped the Hounds close the margin, and their defense picked up late in the half and forced the Mountaineers into a number of turnovers. Despite going only 7-for-20 from the field in the half, the Hounds stayed close with 9-of-13 free throw shooting while Western State failed to get to the line.

Thomas’ 3-pointers gave him Western State scoring honors for the half with nine points, while Largent went 6-for-8 from the line and was ENMU’s top scorer in the half with nine points.

Fort Hays 70, Washburn 69 — Senior forward Jeff Pruitt posted a double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds and hit a game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds left in regulation for the Tigers.

Senior guard Kevin Wagstaff also scored 21 points for Fort Hays, which overcame a 10-point deficit early in the second half.

The 6-foot-10 Pruitt hit a desperation 3-pointer from out front to send the game into OT at 64-64, and the Tigers held Washburn (1-1) without a field goal in the extra session.

Junior guard Andrew Meile scored 18 points for the Ichabods, with senior forward Frank Phifer added 17 and sophomore forward Paul Byers chipped in 16.