Juniors Haneef Vaughn-Wilson, Willie McCray and Jordan Enriquez all scored in double-figures as the Western New Mexico University men’s basketball team nearly erased a 12-point deficit in the second half before New Mexico Highlands University escaped with the 85-81 victory in the Conference Challenge that took place at Dream Style Arena-The Pit on the campus of the University of New Mexico Saturday.

Vaughn-Wilson led the way with 22 points, going 9-15 from the field. He also grabbed four rebounds and dished out four assists. McCray added 19 points on 7-13 shooting, along with seven rebounds and two assists. Enriquez went for 14 points, connecting on 4-8 from the field, three rebounds and both an assist and steal 

Vaughn-Wilson and senior Latrell Spivey combined to score the first three points of the game to give WNMU a 3-0 lead just over a minute in. Enriquez kept the lead at three when he drilled a jumper a minute later.

Junior O’Shayne Reid converted his own offensive rebound into points to keep WNMU in front 13-11 when the Cowboys went on a 6-0 run to open up a 17-13 lead. NMHU kept the pressure going and moved the lead to nine at 26-17 with eight minutes to play in the half.

McCray connected on a three-pointer at the 5:04 mark to cut the deficit back three before the Cowboys ended the half strong outscoring the Mustangs by seven to take a 49-39 lead into halftime. The lead got as high as 12 when New Mexico Highlands opened the second half with a dunk by Jacob Holland.

Still down 12 at 55-43, the Mustangs began to make their move. McCray started the run with a layup, then Enriquez added a three-pointer and after free throws by both Enriquez and sophomore CJ Vanbeekum, Vaughn-Wilson capped the 9-0 run with a layup leaving the Cowboys with just a 55-52 lead near the midway point of the second stanza.

Vanbeekum made it a one-point spread when he drilled a trey two minutes later. The teams continued to trade baskets over the next several minutes and after Enriquez hit two from the line to make it a two-point deficit, NMHU answered with the next four points to move back out to a six-point lead.

From there on out, NMHU would control the game, with the Mustangs getting back to within five a few times and then as close as four with four seconds to play when Vaughn-Wilson hit a three-pointer in transition.

Jordan Jones paced NMHU as he went for a game-high 25 points. Mike Nwabuzor added 22 points and Holland with 15.

It was a physical game with the teams combining for 61 fouls which led to 64 free throws. Each team shot 32 foul shots with NMHU making 25 and 18 for WNMU.

Both teams shot well from the field, just not from long range with WNMU making 29-70 (41), 5-17 (29) from three. NMHU made 26-56 (46), 8-30 (27) from three.

WNMU held the advantage on points in the paint (38-30), points off turnovers (15-14), second-chance (16-7), fastbreak (24-11) and bench points (19-14). The Mustangs committed 14 turnovers, but forced 21.

WNMU will face No. 16 Fort Lewis tomorrow (Sunday) at 3 p.m. The game will be broadcasted live on ProView Networks, channel 26 on Comcast in Albuquerque and also on Facebook live. The Skyhawks fell at the buzzer to Eastern New Mexico, 73-72, earlier Saturday.

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