Wildcats wash away Sandia in district opener

Clovis senior Tigg Bunton throws down a dunk off a pass from Tizrick Phillips during the second half of the Wildcats’ 61-45 win over Sandia on Friday night at Rock Staubus Gymnasium.

By John Eisel: CNJ sports writer

Clovis boys basketball coach J.D. Isler told his team that other schools in the district didn’t respect their offense from outside the paint.

The Wildcats responded with what Isler called their best outside shooting game of the season in Friday night’s 61-45 win over Sandia in the District 4-5A opener at Rock Staubus Gym.

Seven players scored at least five points for Clovis, led by point guard Tizrick Phillips with 13 and senior guard John Props with 11.

Leading 26-20 at halftime, the Wildcats (16-2, 1-0 district) outscored Sandia 17-6 in the third quarter, including two 3-pointers by Props. The closest the Matadors got after that was 11 points.

“A lot of people think we’re a one-dimensional team with our posts, but we’re not,” Isler said. “We don’t have to rely on one or two people to win.”

Sandia (10-6, 0-1) flooded the paint, limiting the touches by 6-foot-8 Tigg Bunton and 6-4 Dominque Easterlin, Clovis’ leading scorers.

Plagued by foul trouble and a sagging Sandia defense, Bunton and Easterlin scored eight points each.

“You have to pick your poison and we decided to go inside,” Ortega said. “We wanted them to beat us from the outside and they did.”

Phillips and Props combined to make nine of 16 shots. Props entered the game averaging 5.4 points a game.

“They were so concentrated on Tigg and Dominique that it really opened up things for our guards,” Isler said. “They were ready to shoot and knew where their shots were coming from,” he said of his guards.

Sandia didn’t shoot well from the field (14 of 45), but the Matadors were able to get to the free-throw line (16 of 21) by drawing fouls on dribble penetration.

“Our guards had their shots, they didn’t drop,” Ortega said.
Nate Kanyinda led Sandia with 18 points.

Fouls on Easterlin and Bunton sent them to the bench for large portions of the second quarter and the second half.

But junior Devin Sweet came off the bench to score seven points and tie for the team-lead with seven rebounds. Jones added five points, mostly on free throws down the stretch that crushed any Sandia hopes of a comeback.

Props said getting everyone involved on offense helps the energy of the team.

“It gets us more pumped,” he said. “We don’t get as tired.”

Isler said he hopes Friday’s game will force teams to think hard about double-teaming Bunton and Easterlin.

“Now they’re going to be guarding on the outside and the inside and that’s going to be hard to do,” Phillips said.