TURLOCK -- Shaving your head has its advantages.
Just ask Marcus Knott.
If he did have hair, the Merced coach would have been pulling it out watching his team almost squander a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter.
Allen Huddleston and company did just enough to escape with a 61-57 win over Pitman in its Central California Conference opener on Wednesday night.
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"That was frustrating," said Knott, whose team improved to 8-6 overall.
"When you play on the road against a team like Pitman, which has played well all year, you can't expect them to lie down.
"You have to be able to finish them off."
Closing out teams has been a struggle all year for Merced.
Wednesday's task was made tough with the absence of 6-foot-4 center Kenny Cooper, who is out with a foot injury.
Knott isn't sure when Cooper will return.
Meanwhile, Pitman (11-3) did everything it could to keep Huddleston from touching the ball.
Sam Baker, Nick Jackson and Robert Beale took turns face-guarding Huddleston from the opening whistle.
Huddleston came into the game scoring at least 30 points in seven straight games.
The University of the Pacific-bound senior did little in the first half.
However, teammate Reggie Nelson scored 10 of his 15 points to give Merced a 31-24 lead at the break.
Huddleston came up big in the second half, scoring 22 of his 29 points.
The senior got open in transition and made a living at the stripe, making 13 of 16 free throws.
"When you're not hitting (3-pointers) and your jumper isn't falling, you have to find other ways to score," Huddleston said.
"You have to find a way to get your team going."
Huddleston scored to give Merced a 49-35 lead with 7:52 remaining in the game.
Then things fell apart.
Turnovers and bad shots helped Pitman trim the lead to 55-52 with 2:36 left.
However, Merced iced the game at the free-throw line with Huddleston making six of seven down the stretch.
"We gave Pitman some extra possessions in that fourth quarter," Knott said.
"We have to learn to execute our offense and take good shots."
Merced plays its first home game this season on Friday against Turlock.
Central California Conference
MERCED 61, PITMAN 57
Merced 14 17 16 14 -- 61
Pitman 13 11 11 22 -- 57
MERCED -- Ronnie Dunham 3, Reggie Nelson 15, Eddie Beavers 1, Allen Huddleston 29, Manny Orozco 1, Marques Barron 4, Patrick Franey 5, Bobby Salinas 3. Totals 20 19-27 61.
PITMAN --Robert Beale 5, Chase Torba 1, Jaspreet Bassi 3, Matt Lavender 7, Sam Baker 10, Edgar Lopez 10, Edgar Lopez 7, Nick Jackson 4, Dominic Romeo 20. Totals 20 14-23 57.
3-pointers: Merced 2 (Franey 1, Salinas 1), Pitman 3 (Beale 1, Baker 1, Lopez 1); Total Fouls: Merced 19, Pitman 19; Foul Outs: Franey (M).
Records: Merced 1-0 CCC, 8-6; Pitman 0-1 CCC , 11-3.
JV -- Merced 62-58.