Freedom New Mexico: Liliana Castillo ENMU senior forward Victor Reid shoots over Abilene Christian sophomore Dosh Simms during the first half of Saturday’s Lone Star Conference South Division men’s game on Saturday at Greyhound Arena. ENMU erased a 15-point deficit in the final 10 minutes to win 79-77.
If nothing else, Eastern New Mexico University freshman guard Michael Maya has shown that he’s a patient young man.
Maya was in the mix for ENMU at the start of the season, starting four games, then fell out of favor and has spent long stretches on the bench. But he was ready when his name was called on Saturday, and helped rally the Greyhounds to a crucial — and improbable — 79-77 Lone Star Conference South Division win over Abilene Christian at Greyhound Arena.
Maya scored seven points, including two 3-pointers, and had two assists and a critical steal in just nine minutes at the end.
The Hounds (11-12, 6-5 South), coming off perhaps an equally improbable four-overtime win at Angelo State on Wednesday, looked dead in the water when the Wildcats opened a 68-53 with 9 1/2 minutes left.
ENMU went on a 6-0 run to get back into striking range, but still trailed 76-69 with 1:02 remaining after two free throws by ACU guard Zach Williams, who finished with 24 points — but only four free throws after halftime.
Maya, inserted by coach Andrew Helton with about 10 minutes left, dribbled into position and launched his second 3-pointer of the game. He then forced a turnover on inbounds play and got the ball to guard Tralyn Harden, who knocked down another 3 to suddenly make it a one-point game.
ACU’s Preston Davis, who struggled at the line late, then made 1-of-2 free throws before Maya found Harden for his fifth 3-pointer with 25 seconds left. After an empty Wildcats possession, Maya hit 1-of-2 free throws with six seconds left and Williams’ guarded 12-footer as time expired bounced off the rim.
The Hounds are in fifth place in the South, one-half game back of ASU and West Texas A&M, both of whom won on Saturday. Incarnate Word, which lost in overtime at home to Angelo State — the Rams’ ninth OT game of the season — dropped to 5-6.
ENMU plays at UIW on Monday in a makeup and at Texas A&M-Kingsville on Wednesday, then hosts WT in the regular-season finale on Saturday.
“It’s just an amazing win,” Helton said. “It shows a lot of character in the kids.
“Tra Harden made some big 3s, Victor Reid made some big play late, but Michael Maya was big.”
A graduate of Valley High School in Albuquerque, Maya said he’s just been waiting his turn.
“I’ve been in the gym (working),” he said. “I wasn’t really playing too well (early), and Jordan (Romero) stepped up and started playing good, so he moved ahead of me.
“But I just stayed ready. I knew my time would come.”
Harden, who finished with a team-high 20 points, hit consecutive 3-pointers in the first minute and the Hounds led until Abilene Christian went on a 15-1 run over the final four minutes of the half for a 47-39 lead.
Williams, ACU’s leading scorer for the year, torched ENMU for 25 points in the Hounds’ 98-82 win earlier at Abilene. This time, he shot 7-of-10 in the first half, including four 3-pointers.
“I thought (ENMU) did a better job of finding him in the second half,” ACU coach John Copeland said. “I thought we played good for 39 minutes. If we just make some free throws down the stretch, it’s a different game.”
The Wildcats went 17-for-26 from the free throw line, but Davis was just 2-of-6 in the final five-plus minutes. Copeland said some of his players have struggled to maintain confidence with all the losing.
Meantime, ENMU overcame a putrid 9-for-25 effort from the free throw line. Junior guard Stefan Mirabal, who had 28 points at ACU, shot just 3-of-13 in this one and finished with 11 points while senior guard Gerald Brown added 10.