It turned out to just be a bad combination for the South Dakota School of Mines men’s basketball team.
New Mexico Highlands got the ball to big Nmamdi Okoro down low and Okoro hit 12-of-18 from the field, scoring 25 points.
The Hardrockers, meanwhile, couldn’t hit from the outside at crunch time, and the Cowboys pulled away for a 75-67 win Saturday at Goodell Gymnasium in the King Center.
Mines, after coming back and tying the game at 35-all at halftime, gave up six quick points to begin the second half and never could get over the hump. The Hardrockers chipped away and got it within three on a few occasions, as late as in the final minute, but didn't get any closer.
“We hung with them and did a lot of good things,” Mines coach Jason Henry said. “Especially on 41 (Okoro). He’s a big strong guy, and of course, we have some injuries in our post. We’re trying to guard him with an undersized post guy, who did a decent job. But he is a load in there and they did a great job of getting him some touches.”
Mines also hit just 1-of-13 from beyond the 3-point arc in the second half and shot just 28 percent from the field in the final 20 minutes.
The Hardrockers two best 3-point shooters — sophomore Jake Heath and Troy Brady — combined to hit just 1-of-12 3-pointers, with Heath failing to connect.
“The hard part to swallow is they have a guy (Mike Nwabuzor) who was shooting 26 percent and he goes 4-for-4 from 3s,” Henry said. “We have a guy shooting 67 percent, and he goes 0-for-6. It’s tough, there’s no doubt about it."
Highlands looked as if it would take control late, leading 66-55 with just under two minutes remaining. But a basket by Logan Elers, a three-point play by Heath, and two free throws by Jacob Anastasi cut the lead to 67-62. Anastasi then hit a three-point play with 41 seconds remaining to cut the lead to three.
But Nwabuzor was 4-for-4 from the line and Chris Lewis hit another free throw to close the scoring. Mines missed three 3-pointers in that sequence and could not respond.
“It was a tribute to our guys; they are not going to lay down,” Henry said. “We had some opportunities as bad as we were shooting. I looked in their eyes and they thought they were going to make the next one. That is what you still want to see. They didn’t have their heads down. We just missed a couple of wide-open looks.
“But I’ll take our chances with a Troy Brady and Jake Heath every night. Next time they will make them and we win.”
Along with his 25 points, Okoro also grabbed 13 rebounds and had two blocked shots. Nwabuzor added 20 points and Jacob Holland scored 18 for Highlands, which moved to 4-3 in league play and 9-4 overall.
Brian Orr led the way for the Hardrockers, 3-4, 6-6, with 17 points, followed by Elers with 14. Anastasi and Brady both scored 10 for the ‘Rockers.
The Hardrockers won’t have to wait long for a little revenge, as they take on Highlands again next Saturday in Las Vegas, N.M. They’ll also face Colorado State-Pueblo Friday in Pueblo.
“The same thing happened last year, so I hope it is déjà vu so to speak,” Henry said. “They beat us at our place and we went down there and set records with 3s and got the W.”