Canyons men’s basketball perseveres against Santa Monica

Canyons sophomore guard Denzel Nwanguma soars from outside the key in a conference matchup with Santa Monica College in the Cougar Cage Wednesday night. Cory Rubin/The Signal

Fielding a roster with just eight eligible players compared to 13 for the opposing team, College of the Canyons men’s basketball came prepared to play against Santa Monica College at the Cougar Cage on Wednesday night.

Holding the Corsairs to just 29 percent shooting from the field in the first half, the Cougars built a big enough lead and withstand a late-game rally, coming out on top with 78-67.

“I think we have impressed upon them that there are only seven games left and everything matters, every possession matters and they have to sell out for each other,” said Canyons head coach Howard Fisher.

Outmanned and outsized, the Cougars (10-12 overall, 1-1 in Western State Conference, South Division) fell behind early going down 3-0, but through hard defense and great team shooting the Cougars rebounded and gained the lead for the rest of the first half.

Jude Agbasi shouldered most of the scoring load for the Cougars in the first half hitting 4-of-7 shots and going 2-for-3 from 3-point range to score 14 of his game-high 26 points. He also frequently drove into the lane.

“Basically, we played a great form of team basketball,” Agbasi said. “We were able to swing the ball so I was able to get open shots and our coach just ran great plays for us.”

Anthony Simone held down the middle of the paint for Canyons doing all the little things to keep players off the boards and forced numerous erratic shots with his length and size.

“I just have to do whatever it takes to win whether that be scoring, rebounding or playing help side defense and helping my teammates out,” Simone said. “As long as we get the win, that’s all I care about.”

Simone finished the game with six points, one rebound and one assist in 24 minutes of play.

Jah-Kez Moore and Jordan Nash contributed big minutes off the bench running off ball screens and making cuts along the baseline, capping the first half with four points each.

Shooting 54.9 percent from the field and going 10-of-12 from the free throw line, Canyons held a 13-point lead going into halftime.

Santa Monica (13-9, 1-1) began the second half aggressive, lead by Eli Degrate who hit a 3 on his first possession then a reverse layup the next trip down the court.

Agbasi answered by hitting a corner 3 to extend the lead to 51-32 with 15:01 left in the game.

Simone ran into foul trouble, picking up his fourth foul three minutes later to exit the game.

With Simone out, the Corsairs saw their opportunity and attacked the paint, but still couldn’t close the gap to single digits thanks to turnovers and bad shot selection.

Simone returned at the 8:52 mark, but fouled out a minute later after a double-foul at midcourt.

With no true big, Canyons’ Zach Phipps, Agbasi and Moore stepped up and played big the rest of the way.

“They really held it together for me,” Simone said. “I was worried for a little bit, but they came together and really stepped up so I’m glad that we came out with the win.”

Up 64-46 with under six minutes to go, the Cougars got sloppy on offense and allowed Santa Monica to go on a 10-0 run to cut the lead to single digits, but Agbasi, Phipps and Denzel Nwanguma answered with six straight points to push the lead back up to double-digits.

Canyons made some clutch free throws down the stretch to withstand the Santa Monica push and escaped with the victory.

Next up for Canyons is West LA College at 5 p.m. at home on Saturday in another WSC game.

“We had a lot of energy to start the game,” Nwanguma said. “If we come out strong we know what we can do together if we play as one so we just got it going with the energy. As long as everyone comes to play, that’s all that matters.

“I’m just glad we got a team win. We stayed strong and preserved to get the win.”

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