Josh Cassaday had his mind made up about 75 feet from the basket.
The Fort Lewis College forward saw an opening in the middle of the lane, and no New Mexico Highlands defender saw him rumbling like a freight train until Marquis Whitt, who at 6-9 is the tallest Cowboy on the roster, rotated over when the 6-6 Cassaday launched himself at the bucket.
Whitt was late sliding over but right on time for his posterization.
Cassadays tomahawk jam over Whitt brought the crowd and the Skyhawks bench to a fever pitch, and helped spark a run that turned a then-five point lead into 12 at halftime, and behind strong performances from Matt Morris and DeAndre Lansdowne late, FLC topped NMHU 94-84 on Friday in a battle of two of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conferences top teams at Whalen Gymnasium.
Cassadays rim-rocker was followed by another dunk minutes later in an eight-point night for one of FLCs most trusted reserves.
Nobody was going to stop me. I felt like I was in high school again, Cassaday said of the dunk.
But after FLC jumped out to a lead as big as 16 points in the second half, the inevitable Highlands run would chop the lead to as little as 75-69 with 5:50 remaining after a Momcilo Latinovic putback.
The Skyhawks (10-2, 6-2 RMAC) would answer, however.
Matt Billups hit a pair of free throws, and Lansdowne, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half, followed with a blow-by layup and subsequent free throw after a Whitt foul pushed the lead back to 80-69.
Kyle Behrens came up with a fastbreak dunk on the next possession, staring down NMHUs Thomas Manzano as he flushed one home. Manzano had barked at the FLC bench after hitting a 3 in the first half.
Morris nine points and seven rebounds in the second half boosted FLC down the stretch, but despite his and Lansdownes late contributions, coach Bob Hofman still wanted more toughness out of his starters, who played almost every minute late in the game.
I really wasnt happy with the last five minutes, with how we closed it out, Hofman said.
Mindaugas Markevicius led Highlands (10-3, 6-3 RMAC) with 18 points, and Latinovic and Manzano who averages nearly 24 a game each had 16.
Lansdowne led the Skyhawks with 16, followed by Morris 15, and Behrens and David Kanyinda scored 12.
Billups continued his strong play since returning to the starting lineup with nine points and five assists.
In the first half, the Skyhawks were buoyed by six points from Torrey Udall, five from Matthias Weissl and three from Connor Drumm off the bench, not to mention solid defensive cameos by Tayler Faust and Mike Matthews.
Ill be honest, I didnt have the guts to put in some of the guys that havent played under pressure (in the second half) that did an unbelievable first-half job, coach Hofman said of his lack of late substitutions.
In the end, FLC was able to protect home court and get perhaps its biggest win thus far over a strong league foe two key factors in what should be a tight league race.
A couple game skid ... thats over and done with now, Cassaday said.