The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Rams advance in 4A tournament

 

Eric Murray

Portales' Vince Gardner tries to reel in an offensive rebound around a slew of Eagle defenders, as teammate Braden Bridges looks on, in the second quarter of Saturday's 45-27 win.

PORTALES — This time of year, experience matters in the state basketball tournament. Coming into Friday's 4A Round of 16 game between Portales boys and Navajo Prep, the Rams had faced seven of the 16-team field a combined 13 times already. The Eagles, meanwhile, faced just one team, Shiprock, who they played a total of three times.

After a bit of a slow start, the Rams (17-12) quickly got going and proved they were the more battled-tested team in a 45-27 blue collar win over the Eagles (18-11). Portales had 20 offensive rebounds in the game, allowing them to capitalize on second and third chance opportunities. Navajo Prep, on the other hand, had just three offensive boards.

Portales moves on to a 9:45 a.m. Wednesday quarterfinal against District 4-4A rival Hope Christian at the Santa Ana Star Center.

"Our kids played extremely hard. There was an electricity in this gym that hadn't been there all year, and I think that's because it is part of the state tournament and there was a lot on the line," Rams coach Rickie McBroom explained.

"But our kids played extremely hard, and on the defensive end — oh man. I thought we played some of the best defense we played all year. Offensively, it was a little harder, but we kept bangin' and bangin'. We've been working on rebounding and we improved there tremendously."

A raucous crowd on both sides seemed to effect Portales a little more in the early going, as the Navajo Prep crowd came out in force, despite traveling across state from Farmington.

A pair of layups from Tyler Pete gave the Eagles a 4-3 lead, with 5:14 to play in the opening period. However, that proved to be the last score for more than a quarter for the Eagles, who never led again the rest of the way.

Braden Bridges quickly got a steal and lay-in to help Portales regain the lead, while Ethan Self drained a 3 to give the Rams an 8-4 lead, heading into the second period. From there, the lead extended to 17-4, following a Tyrese Dawson trey.

Navajo Prep finally got back on the board with 4:42 to play in the half, but found itself trailing by 12 at intermission. According to Bridges, who led all scorers with 12 points on Saturday night, a marked improvement on the offensive glass helped the Rams in this contest, and especially after a slow first quarter start.

"One of our big problems was that we gave up a lot of offensive boards, especially last week," Bridges said. "We gave up three in the first quarter (tonight), and that's what we gave up all game. So, once we limited those offensive boards, we came out and did (our thing)."

Though not always pretty on the offensive end, as the Rams made just 13-of-26 (50 percent) free throws and 14-of-52 (26 percent) from the field, 44 team rebounds proved to be too much for the Eagles to handle.

Navajo Prep kept itself within striking distance for a good portion of the second half, but could never get closer than 11, as those pesky second and third chance opportunities for the Rams sealed the Eagles' fate.

Experience, however, won't be an issue for Portales' next opponent, who happens to be a familiar foe. No. 3 Hope Christian (19-8) made easy work of No. 14 Robertson on Saturday, and will look to beat the Rams for a fourth time this season.

While Portales never stood a chance in two road matchups, the Rams narrowly lost a nail-biter at home to the Huskies, back on Feb. 17. This time, Hope won't have to travel far, but will still face the Rams on a neutral court in the 4A quarterfinal, which will take place at 9:45 a.m. on Wednesday morning at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho.

"I think the whole thing goes back to that we know the keys - we got to take away the transition game and we got to rebound on both ends of the floor. They get so many second chance points on the offensive glass, and that's where they really beat us in the district championship game," McBroom said.

"That's one thing we've worked hard on this week. I know we probably gave up a few tonight, but not very many. Talking about experience, they got the experience, but we're gonna go do our best. We know if we do what we need to do, we can beat them - we really can."

 

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