Clovis coach J.D. Isler disputes a call in the first half during the Wildcats’ 75-67 loss to Hobbs on Thursday in the District 4-5A tournament semifinals. (Hobbs News Sun: David Howell)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
HOBBS — Hobbs’ home court advantage is a hard enough nut to crack, even without falling behind by 19 points.
And though visiting Clovis did break into the shell quite a bit, it wasn’t enough Thursday night in the District 4-5A tournament.
Hobbs, with a 75-67 victory, earned a place in the district tourney finals Saturday night at Cibola.
More importantly, the Eagles clinched a berth in next week’s state tournament with the win.
For Clovis (22-6), it was a bitter end to a season that started with an 11-game winning streak.
“It’s very hard. We had a team that could go to state and we had the potential to do it,” said Clovis senior Elliott Hita, who scored 10 points. “But the Hobbs Eagles just stopped us tonight. And finished our dream.”
Hobbs (18-9) played most of the first half without standout guard B.J. Meridyth, who was in foul trouble.
At the start of the second half, Eagles’ sharp-shooter Austin Turner went down with an injury to his right leg.
But Clovis suffered the biggest blows when senior Tigg Bunton, who finished with a team-high 20 points, went to the bench by drawing his third and fourth fouls before two minutes had elapsed in the third quarter.
At that juncture, Hobbs took immediate advantage — stretching a 34-30 lead to a 49-30 bulge in the matter of 3 1/2 minutes. Samson Munoz, who had a game-high 21 points, had eight points and Meridyth added six in the 15-0 run.
In a desperate attempt to kick-start his flagging offense, Clovis coach J.D. Isler gambled and put Bunton back in with 3:44 left in the third.
“We were just afraid it was going to get away from us. I mean, we were down 19,” Isler said. “We just felt like we couldn’t let it get any further away. Then the kids just hung in there and we cut it to three.”
That actually happened twice.
When Hita put back a Bunton miss early in the fourth quarter, the Hobbs’ lead was reduced to 55-52. But Meridyth immediately answered by racing down the court for a fastbreak layup with 5:29 remaining.
Bunton eventually fouled out with 4:48 left and the Eagles promptly built the lead back up to 68-59 with 2:18 left. That’s when reserve guard Jordan Moore and senior Tizrick Phillips canned consecutive 3-pointers for Clovis to reduce the lead to three again.
“Since that Sandia game, we know we can come back anytime,” said Hita, refering to a road comeback against the Matadors last week. “It’s just our free throws. I think we missed 19; that’s what hurt us.”
In the end, it was Hobbs’ proficiency at the line that secured its victory. While Clovis was 28 of 47 at the charity stripe, the Eagles though only 30 of 45 themselves — sunk nearly every one down the stretch.
Two free throws by Munoz, followed by two more from Turner with just over a minute to play, gave Hobbs a 59-52 lead.
“I stopped it a couple of times (with timeouts) to stop the bleeding,” Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore said. “Once we slowed the pace down, they made the comeback. And that’s going to happen, the two schools the way we are. But we hit our free throws down the stretch and that was the key.”