Buffs off to third-best start in school history
The win keeps WTAMU unbeaten at 11-0 on the year, marking the first time the Buffaloes have opened a season with 10 consecutive wins since doing so at the start of the 1997-98 Elite Eight campaign. NSU falls to 5-6 on the season.
Mincey hit seven of 10 field goals and was a perfect five-of-five from the line in leading the Buffs.
After not scoring their first points until Jacquiese Holcombe’s (Sr-1L, College Park, Ga.) three-pointer at the 16:45 mark of the first half, the Buffs then proceeded to establish their offensive tempo, going on an 11-0 run to take a 14-6 lead just four minutes later.
Alex Davis (Sr-1L, Milwaukee, Wis.) blocked a pair of RiverHawks’ shots during the run, while also nailing a three from the left corner. The Buffs also snared five offensive boards during that stretch to keep several possessions alive.
Holcombe, who entered the game 0-of-4 from three point range this season, nailed his second trey at the 9:25 mark to boost the Buffs’ lead to 13 points, 21-8, and force NSU to call a second time out.
The Buffaloes opened a 17-point lead on Courtney Carr’s (Jr-TR, Selma. Ala.) putback of a Davis miss at the 3:51 mark of the first half. Carr was fouled on the play and nailed his free throw attempt, giving WT a 33-17 lead.
The Buffaloes’ lead grew to 21 points at the 2:41 mark and they would eventually take a 37-19 lead into the halftime break.
“We played well in the first half,” said WT head coach Rick Cooper. “But we knew that NSU was too good a team, too good of a shooting team, to lose by 20. We knew they were going to come back, which they did.
NSU began the second half with a 9-0 run to pull within 37-28.
After missing their first five field goal attempts of the half, LaDarius Hall’s (Sr-1L, Thomasville, Ga.) backdoor lay in at 15:49 finally put the Buffs on the board.
The RiverHawks pulled closer. A tip in by NSU post Brent Grice brought the visitors to within six points at 47-41 with 8:19 on the second half clock. After a Holcombe jumper, NSU’s Antoine Branch hit a long-range three to pull the RiverHawks within five points, 49-44.
WT’s Joe Mincey answered with a driving baseline lay up to put the Buffs back up by seven, 51-44 with 7:32 remaining in regulation.
A Branch three at the 6:05 mark pulled NSU to within 53-49.
Joe Mincey (Sr-1L, Brunswick, Ga.) hit a pair of free throws with 1:50 remaining to put the WT lead back into double digits, 63-52.
The Buffs iced the game from the line, as Hall, the Lone Star Conference’s leading free throw shooter, hit a pair of free throws with 50 seconds remaining to give the Buffs a final 65-53 lead.
The second half saw WT shot a perfect seven of seven from the line, with Hall and Mincey combining for a perfect nine of nine.
“Our second half free throw shooting was a key to us winning tonight,” Cooper said. “We struggled to get to the line, especially in the second half. NSU plays a sagging defense that encourages you to shoot over it, and when you do that, you don’t get many free throw opportunities.”
In addition to Mincey’s 20, Hall finished with 17 points, Holcombe had 11 and Davis scored 10 points. Carr pulled down a game high nine rebounds, while Davis had six and Rod Little grabbed five boards. Davis also blocked a career-high four shots, while, as a team, the Buffs rejected six NSU shots.
The Buffaloes shot 46 percent from the floor and were 81 percent from the line.
As has been the case all season, the Buffaloes outrebounded their opponent, this time by a 36-27 margin.
“Carr’s nine rebounds and Little’s five rebounds were very eye-opening,” Cooper said. “Especially Little’s rebounds. For a guard to get in there and get five rebounds is very impressive.”
NSU was led by Dominuque Gaines’ 15 points. Branch totaled 14 points, all coming in the second half, and Jermaine Bransford scored 10 points. Brandsford and Branch each pulled down a team-high six boards. The RiverHawks shot 42 percent from the field, but were just 5 of 18 from the line (44 pct.).
The Buffs get a welcome break for the holidays and won’t return to action until Thursday, Jan 6, when they visit Southeastern Oklahoma State. Tipoff at Bloomer Sullivan Arena is set for 8 p.m. CST.