By Jesse Muñoz/COC Sports Information Director
LANCASTER, Calif. — The Cougars had four starters reach double figures, including a team-high 20 points from freshman Christopher Bradford, but it wasn't enough as College of the Canyons finished on the wrong end of an 84-80 conference loss to host Antelope Valley College.
Canyons (7-6, 0-1) had posted wins in three of its last four contests prior to Wednesday night's Western State Conference (WSC), South Division opener. Four of the Cougars' losses this season have now come by margins of six or fewer points.
COC held a hard-fought 42-41 lead at halftime in what was forecasted to be a tight conference match-up.
Antelope Valley (6-9, 1-0) has also played well in recent weeks, winning four of the last five including Wednesday's contest. The Marauders received a big boost from freshman guard Mekhi Smith who finished with a game-high 31 points on a 12-of-20 shooting night. Smith scored 12 points in the second half to help push AVC past the Cougars.
Bradford's stat line also included four assists and four rebounds. Sophomore Jordan Nash netted 15 points with an efficient 6-of-8 night from the floor. He added a game-high six assists to continue his conference-leading pace, and came away with three steals.
The Cougars briefly pushed their halftime lead to 46-41 on a jump shot from Nash but were never able to create much separation. AVC tied the game at 51-51 a few minutes later as the two teams continued to battle on both sides of the floor.
A steal and subsequent three-pointer by Nash put the game at 60-55 in favor of Canyons with just over 12 minutes to go.
Later, a three-point play from Smith inched the Marauders closer at 68-66. AVC finally took the lead at 71-70 on a long-range jumper from Julian Williams. A slam dunk by Da'Jour Lewis put Antelope Valley ahead at 73-71 with 4:07 to go, producing a lead that would not be relinquished.
Bradford brought the Cougars to within a point at 77-76 after a pair of free throws with 2:06 to go, but Canyons would get no closer.
Zach Phipps finished with 12 points, while Virgil Mahoney added 10 points and seven boards, including four off the offensive glass, to go with a pair of blocks. Joel Carrillo led the Cougars' reserves with 11 points in 18 minutes of action.
Canyons and AVC posted nearly identical shooting percentages, both just over the 48 percent mark. The Marauders held a slight 38-30 rebounding advantage, while COC posted three fewer turnovers in the game.
COC will look to regroup prior to Saturday's home game vs. No. 7 Santa Monica College in the Cougar Cage. That contest is scheduled to tip at 7 p.m. and will serve as the Cougars' first true home game after previously hosting at The Master's University MacArthur Center due to ongoing gymnasium renovations. General admission tickets are $5.
Stay up to date on all this season's action by following the College of the Canyons Athletic department on social media at @COCathletics on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and YouTube.