Las Vegas – In the way of first impressions, Rattlers point guard Josh Orta couldn’t have done much better Friday night.
The sophomore transfer from South Plains Junior College scored a game-high 27 points in his first action as a Rattler, nearly bringing St. Mary’s University back from a double-digit second-half deficit against the University of Central Missouri on the opening day of the High Desert Classic.
No. 16 Central Missouri edged the Rattlers 83-76 in their season opener, but not without a major late scare from Orta.
The San Antonio native drained back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute to close a nine-point gap to 79-76 with 27 seconds to play, leaving the Rattlers with their smallest deficit of the half. But D.J. Castro (So., El Paso, Texas) and Orta came up empty on a pair of 3s over their next few possessions, allowing Central Missouri to escape with a narrow victory.
Orta scored 20 of his points in the second half, helping erase most of the Rattlers’ 42-33 halftime deficit. He shot 11 for 21, including 5 for 12 from downtown, and added three assists.
Standout big-man Kevin Kotzur (So., La Vernia, Texas) added 14 points and seven rebounds, while Castro scored 11.
The Rattlers (0-1), who never led, forced 17 turnovers but were outrebounded 37-25. They shot 9 for 20 from 3-point range, but also allowed 12 3s.
St. Mary’s wraps up the High Desert Classic against Southwest Baptist University at 7:30 p.m. (CST) Saturday. The Rattlers return for their home opener against Sul Ross State at 7:30 p.m. Monday at Bill Greehey Arena.