By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
MELROSE — An early-season injury to their starting point guard was a real problem at the time for the Melrose Buffaloes. Now it may turn out to make the state-tournament-bound Buffaloes a tougher team to handle.
But first Melrose had to overcame an 11-point third quarter deficit to beat Cimarron 59-57 Friday in a Class 1A regional semifinal contest.
Carlos Ruiz tossed in 21 points while Tyler Tatum added 14 as the Buffaloes (20-7) earned their second-straight state tournament berth.
While the 3-point shooting for Melrose was mostly awry through the first half of the game, it started to find the mark with much more frequency beginning late in the third quarter.
Ruiz, Melrose’s biggest threat beyond the arc, knocked down three long-distance shots in tougher-than-expected win for the District 3-1A champions.
“Every coach I talked to around here said if you stop 5 (Ruiz), you’ve got a chance,” said Cimarron coach Bobby Clouthier, whose team finished the season at 12-11.
But it wasn’t just Ruiz who did all the 3-point damage in the comeback win. Jeremy Weese swished a pair of treys and Brock Graham added another with 1:47 left to put Melrose up 55-49.
Melrose coach Casey Pack said that Graham’s injury early in the season helped his replacement, Tatum, gain confidence and versatility as a point guard.
When Graham returned, it meant the Buffaloes had more weapons.
“We had to move Tyler and it takes time to mold a point guard. We had Brock there for two years,” Pack said. “Now we had to get Tyler Tatum and some other kids involved.”
Melrose fell to Tatum in the first round of the state tournament last year.
This time, Pack is hoping that his squad’s extra weapons will make for a longer run.
“Now we have Brock back,” Pack said. “We do some good things. I feel comfortable. People shouldn’t look past us.”