What a difference Edwin Opoku makes.
Forced to play Fresno City College back in January without its injured floor general, the Merced College men's basketball team was handed an embarrassing 48-point loss.
With Opoku back in the fold on Wednesday night, the difference was profound.
The Blue Devils broke the Rams' press consistently and committed 13 fewer turnovers to show for it.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Merced Sun-Star
Opoku also got the offense going with MC turning in 17 more points.
The only area the sophomore point guard didn't have an impact was the end result.
With 3:43 to play Opoku hit a spinning floater, making it a six-point game. MC had two opportunities to further cut into Fresno's lead, but the home irons proved unkind.
Arte Williams gave the Rams (8-0 CVC, 26-5) a big bucket late and Fresno City pulled away with free throws for an 88-77 victory.
"It makes a difference having our quarterback out there," MC coach Bill Russell said of Opoku. "If we had him all season we probably win eight or nine more games.
"But we're in no place to make excuses.
"We had our opportunities tonight and the bounces just didn't go our way."
In stark contrast to the teams' previous meeting, this one was contested to the very end.
Opoku serving as the one-man press break was the key.
Continually breaking through double teams, Opoku (nine points, six assists) had plenty of open options in transition -- and his teammates finished.
Justin Sparks led MC (3-5 CVC, 8-16) with 16 points, Nate Williams provided 14 in the post and Julius Cheeks added 11.
"I liked the pace the game was played at," Opoku said. "I love when teams try to press me. It's a personal battle.
"It was less about me scoring tonight because of how the press was setting things up, but I was able to get other guys involved."
Unfortunately MC again struggled with FCC's Williams.
The Rams big man didn't repeat his 30-point performance from the first time around, but most of his 17 points came when MC needed a stop.
"We gave a gallant team-effort tonight," Russell said. "We got good performances from just about everyone out there.
"We just had no answer for Williams."
Sean Lynch is a Sun-Star sports reporter. He can be reached at email@example.com or via phone at 385-2476.
Central Valley Conference
FRESNO CITY 88
MERCED COLLEGE 77
At Merced College
FRESNO CITY -- Thomas Ammon 2, Brandon Johnson 5, Aaron Hill 14, Donnell Fleming 8, Cory Billingsly 9, Mike Marcial 7, Kenny Edwards 4, Russell Gregory 6, Marion Burnett 8, Brian Minor 17. Totals 32 19-28 88.
MERCED COLLEGE -- Julius Cheeks 11, Dominic Jones 1, Brakim McClain 2, Edwin Opoku 9, Lavell Shipman 8, Justin Sparks 16, Brandon Williams 3, Nate Williams 15, Erin Walker 10, Dewisley Woods 2. Totals 33 8-13 77.
3- pointers: Fresno 5 (Hill 2, Billingsly, Burnett 2), Merced 3 (Cheeks 3); Rebounds: Merced 40 (Shipman 9); Total Fouls: Fresno 18, Merced 18; Foul Outs: None.
Halftime Score: Fresno City 39-35.
Records: Fresno 8-0 CVC, 26-5; Merced 3-5 CVC, 8-16.