Despite building an early nine point lead, holding a six point halftime advantage, and still possessing a one-point lead with 3:23 remaining in the game, the Pirates' men's basketball team could not hold on down the stretch, dropping their Western State Conference opener 52-51 at the Athletic Event Center Wednesday night. Vondel Faniel had a monster night for VC (7-10, 0-1) with 23 rebounds and 18 points, but it was not enough to lead the Pirates to victory.
VC was on early, steadily building a nine-point advantage, 17-8, with 6:21 remaining in the period. The Cougars came back strong, however, with an 11-0 run over the next two-plus minutes to take a two-point lead. Toure Atwater got Ventura back on track with a 3-pointer at the 3:28 mark, and Faniel had a putback to build the lead back to three points. Atwater hit a fade-away triple from 25 feet at the buzzer to give VC a 25-19 halftime edge.
THe Pirates were never really in control in the final period, as Cuesta kept picking away at the VC advanatge. The Cougars got the deficit down to two, 27-25, with 28:18 on the clock, but a bucket by Chris Thompson held them off. Jamal Lewis converted a Jalon Wilson assist for three, followed by a deuce by Elijah Brown and Ventura built the lead back to seven, 34-27, at the 14:02 mark.
Cuesta finally took the lead with 9:08 remaining in the game, but a Faniel bucket followed by a Nathaniel Claxton field goal put VC back on top, 40-37. The Cougars scored the next four points before Atwater made a bucket to give VC the advantage at the 5:30 mark. Cuesta scored the next four points, however, and never relinquished the lead from that point on. Trailing by one with six seconds left, the Pirates rebounded a free throw, but their desperation heave fell short. Ventura fell to Cuesta 52-51.
Atwater was the only other Pirate in double figures with 12 points and Lewis contributed eight. Eric Davis had six rebounds for VC while Wilson handed out four assists.
Ventura will next travel to Allan Hancock College on Wednesday Jan. 14 and to LA Pierce on Saturday Jan. 17. Tip-off in Santa Maria on Wednesday is 5:00 pm and the game is a double0-header with the VC women taking on AHC at 7:00 pm.