The Gillette College men’s basketball team trailed for less than a minute Friday night during their 10th win of the year, but couldn’t pull away from Lake Region State College until the very end.
A 56-41 halftime lead was erased by the visiting Devils Lake, North Dakota squad and the Pronghorns found themselves in a 65-63 tussle midway through the second half. Lake Region hit several shots to keep them within striking distance, but Gillette closed out the game with a convincing 17-10 run in the final 3:37 for the 100-89 victory.
“They jumped on us in the second half. … But it was a good finish for us,” Gillette coach Shawn Neary said. “I’m happy that we scored 100 points, because I’d like to play at that pace more.”
Sophomore Isaac Mushila provided a big spark during the game-sealing run. The Pronghorns were running the break with efficiency and Mushila benefited from three assists for six straight Gillette points. The quick outburst boosted the lead from 83-79 to 92-81 with 1:30 left in the game.
Lake Region hit two 3’s in the final 90 seconds to keep the hope alive, but the Pronghorns answered right back both times. Mushila assisted sophomore Bradley Akhile for a monster two-handed dunk after one of the triples and freshman Gary Solomon drove to the rim and scored in response to the other.
Akhile’s dunk was the icing on the cake, evoking a big cheer from the crowd and pushing Gillette’s lead up to 98-87 with 38 seconds to play. Both teams made a pair of free throws in garbage time to bring the final score to 100-89.
Neary was pleased with the way his team closed out the game, but not with the overall defensive effort in the second half. Lake Region shot over 49% from the field in the final 20 minutes. That, paired with a tricky 1-2-2 defense, allowed the Royals to make a 18-6 run out of halftime and close the gap to 62-59.
Sophomore Mason Archambault was a big reason why the Pronghorns never surrendered the lead in the second half. After struggling with foul trouble for most of the first half, he got it going from deep when he returned to the court.
Archambault had 16 of his 19 points in the second half, including four of his five 3-pointers. Neary actually wanted to see his team feed Archambault a little more when he was hot.
The Pronghorns played better in the first half than the second, Neary said. They held Lake Region to 40 percent, while shooting 48 percent themselves from the field.
It was two freshmen guards that gave Gillette a boost in the first 20 minutes. Jo Jones entered the game near the 15-minute mark for Archambault and immediately scored with a short jumper to extend the slim lead to 16-12.
Jones put his best attributes — speed, quickness and aggression — on display for the next three minutes and made a one-man 10-0 run — all in transition.
The 5-foot-9 Jones nailed a 3 on the break during that stretch and finished it off by swiping a pass and throwing down a two-handed dunk to give Gillette the 25-17 lead with 11:04 on the clock.
Twelve of his 15 points were scored in that three-minute span and he had a feeling the performance was coming.
“It felt great. I had a talk with coach and we just talked about me being more aggressive. … Everybody needs that little bit of motivation to get them going and tonight that showed,” Jones said. “I had that killer mindset the whole day since I woke up. I told myself I was going to go get a dunk. I dunked it.”
Back-to-back 3’s from Lake Region gave the Royals their final lead of the game at 27-26 with 7:35 left, but the Pronghorns responded well. Gillette made another run to close out the first half and freshman Teonta McKeithen's ability to heat up in a flash was the key.
He saw the ball go in a few times with a pair of free throws with 6:29 left and then started lighting it up from deep. His highlight moment was nailing two 3-pointers in a 15-second span, which quickly gave the Pronghorns a 41-38 lead with 4:15 on the clock.
McKeithen scored five more in the next three minutes, including one more 3 to bring his total to 13, and Gillette went on to hold a 56-41 lead at halftime.
“(Jones and McKeithen were a) great lift for us in the first half. Both of them just played well,” Neary said. “Teonta is a very capable shooter. He just needs to play and get his confidence a little bit.”
Mushila led the Pronghorns in scoring and rebounding with 21 and 12. Archambault was next with 19 points, followed by Jones’ 15, McKeithen’s 13, while Akhile and Solomon both finished with 11.
The Pronghorns will go for win No. 10 Saturday when they take on Providence College at 5 p.m. in the Pronghorn Center.