Clovis seniuor point guard Bud Willis shoots a jumper in the first half of Friday’s game against Abilene Cooper. Willis was one of three Wildcats named to the all-tournament team. CNJ photo by Rick White.
CANYON — Clovis coach J.D. Isler wasn’t ready to rank it with David knocking off Goliath.
He did, however, say beating an Amarillo High team that entered Saturday’s championship game of the Gene Messer Tournament Champions as the 17th-ranked team in Texas in Class 5A and with an air of invincibility ranks as a huge win.
Clovis overcame an eight-point deficit early in the second half and a decided height disadvantage to stun the Sandies, 59-55, as Dominique Easterlin led a balanced attack with 15 points.
Justin Pinckney, named the tournament’s most valuable player, added 14 points, including a pair of free throws with 29 seconds left as the Wildcats spread the floor with the lead.
With its third win in three days, the Wildcats (5-0) remained unbeaten.
“They’re so dang big and physical, I wasn’t sure if we could stand up to the pressure,” Isler said. “But we guarded the high post really well and fought well on the boards.
“The big thing was it was a consistent effort.”
Tyler Cooper, one of five Sandies listed as 6-foot-3 or taller, led Amarillo (8-2) with 15 points and Chris Hinz added 14. The Sandies won their first two tournament games by 60 and 33 points.
“I don’t think (Amarillo) felt like we could play with them,” Isler said. “But the more we played with them the more confidence we gained.”
Mario Caswell, the tallest Wildcat at 6-5, scored six of his eight points in the third quarter as the Wildcats clawed their way back from a 34-26 deficit. John Props’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer pulled Clovis within 41-39.
Senior point guard Bud Willis gave Clovis the lead for good at 52-47 with three minutes left on a pair of free throws and a 3-pointer.
Willis, who joined Pinckney and Easterlin on the all-tournament, scored all 11 of his points in the second half.
“Bud’s really played solid at point guard,” Isler said. “He’s been a steadying force for us.
Sherwood, listed at 6-6 but more like 6-8, scored eight of his 10 points in the final four minutes of the first half, helping the Sandies break to a 29-24 halftime lead. Cooper, the son of West Texas A&M men’s basketball coach Cooper hit a 3-pointer to open the second half, giving Amarillo a 32-24 lead.
Isler said the Wildcats spread the floor in the second half, forcing the Sandies to extended their man-to-man defense, which opened up the middle for dribble penetration.
Clovis 58, Cooper 50
Whether it was Tizrick Phillips’ momentum-changing 3-pointers or Pinckney and Easterlin occasionally slipping free inside, Clovis put together enough offensive spurts to hold off pesky Abilene Cooper in a semifinals.
“It seemed liked we were in a funk,” said Pinckney, who finished with a 14 points, nine below his season average. “We didn’t do the things we usually do — like box out and play good defense.”
Isler said the Wildcats appeared lethargic coming off Thursday’s exciting 75-63 win over El Paso Parkland.
“That’s probably our poorest effort of the season on defense and rebounding,” Isler said. “We got away from doing all the little things that helped us be successful.”
Easterlin added 13 points for the Wildcats, who were averaging 71 points an outing.
Cooper kept the game close with its deliberate motion offense and solid interior defense, which kept Pinckney and Easterlin in check most of the night.
Phillips and Props helped pick up the slack.
Props sparked a 9-2 run at the end of the second quarter with a jumper and a 3-pointer on back-to-back possessions, giving the Wildcats a 28-19 lead and the momentum heading into halftime.
It didn’t last long as Cooper crept to within a point three times, including 34-33 on Warren Daniel’s putback with three minutes left in the third quarter. In stepped Phillips, who restored order for the Wildcats by calmly draining a pair of 3-pointers as Clovis closed the quarter with a 9-1 run.
Cooper never got closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Billy Linley scored 13 points off the bench for Cooper, including six in the second quarter to keep the Class 5A Cougars within striking range, and crafty point guard Paul Peterson added 12.