Sterling, CO – The No. 15 North Platte Community College men’s basketball team (26-4, 12-4 South Sub-Region) survived and advanced Saturday afternoon in the opening game of the Region IX Tournament defeating the Central Wyoming College Rustlers (12-17, 6-10 North Sub-Region) 71-69 on lay-up by Marco Pascolo out of a baseline out of bounds play with 2.1 seconds remaining.
“It’s that time of year where all that matters is winning and advancing,” said assistant coach Nathan Wieseler. “We took their punch early and were able to get back in the game possession by possession. We are very excited to continue our season Monday.”
The Knights started off the game slow as the Rustlers scored the first nine points of the game to take the early lead. Two free throws by Ethan Montalvo finally got the Knights on the board. The Rustlers continued their hot play as they would gain as much as 16-30 lead in the second half. The Knights would not go quietly and battled back to only trail 27-34 at intermission behind nine points from Montalvo and seven from Tim Simmons.
The Knights got right on track at the start of the second half as Marco Pascolo hit back-to-back threes to immediately cut into the Rustlers lead. The Knights completed their battle back to take a lead as Simmons started to take over with drives to the basket and assists to teammates for easy buckets. The Knights would stretch their lead to as many as nine points, but were never able to close the door on the Rustlers.
The Rustlers were able to hang around behind the hot shooting of Bryce Canda who went 7 of 7 from the 3-point line on his way to 26 points. After a couple free throw misses, the Ruslters had the ball down two with 34 seconds left. A foul was called on the Knights in the back court and Elmer Lopez knocked down both free throws to tie the game at 69 points. The Knights took a timeout with eight seconds left to set up a final play. After the ball was deflected out of bounds with 3.5 seconds left the Knights took another timeout setting up Pascolo’s heroics.
On the ensuing inbounds play Pascolo slipped to the basket and was rewarded with a pass from Simmons that he finished with 2.1 seconds remaining to give the Knights the winning basket. The Rustlers attempted a full court pass that was intercepted by the Knights to end the game.
“It was a tough game,” said Tim Simmons. “We got back in it on defense and we were fortunate to pull it out in the end and play again Monday.”
Simmons led the Knights with 16 points. Montalvo finished with 15, Pascolo finished with 14 and Cameron Williams finished with 11 points to round out the scorers in double-figures for the Knights. Aireon Porter contributed eight points and nine rebounds.
Canda finished with 26 points, while Isaiah Tademy had 14 and Elmer Lopez had 12 to pace the Rustlers.
The Knights advance to the Quarterfinals of the Region IX Tournament and will face the winner of No. 3 seed Casper College (18-12, 11-5 North Sub-Region) and No. 6 seed Lamar Community College (11-19, 7-9 South Sub-Region) on Monday March 3 at 2 p.m. CST. The game will be live streamed at www.ihigh.com/gonjc/ and will be broadcast live be ESPN Radio 1410.