PURPLE PEPPER SHOOTOUT: Wildcats squander late lead

Amarillo High School’s coach John Smith talks with Clovis’ Jaden Isler after the Wildcats 58-56 loss in the Purple Pepper Shootout Saturday in Clovis. Isler missed a shot as he drove to the basket in the final seconds. (CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth)

By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondant

Playing from behind for most of the game, maybe all the Clovis High boys basketball team needed was just one chance to go ahead.

Then again, maybe not.

In the last game of the four-team Purple Pepper round-robin tournament, Clovis fell to Amarillo High 58-56 at Rock Staubus Gym.

Clovis (11-5) scored the first bucket of the game, but quickly fell behind the visiting Sandies after a 10-0 Amarillo High run. Behind is where the ‘Cats would stay until the Sandies were hit with a pair of technical fouls midway through the fourth period.

At that juncture of the contest, Clovis junior Cody Thornsbury hit all four free throws as a result of the technicals and the Wildcats went ahead 50-46.

But Amarillo High (8-12), led by Kyler Hill’s 16 points, promptly scored the next six points to go up 52-50. Clovis, which got 13 points apiece from senior Devin Sweet and sophomore Bryce Hill, never led again and got its last tie — at 50-50 — when Jaden Isler scored with 20 seconds remaining.

After a foul was called against Sweet, Amarillo’s Brandon Miller hit a pair of free throws to put the Sandies up for the final time. In the final seconds, a wild underhanded shot by Isler missed, Sweet’s follow-up tip went errant, and Amarillo High went home with a victory.

“It’s a disappointing loss, because I really feel like we let them come in and take a game away from us,” Clovis coach J.D. Isler said.

Isler pointed out that his team committed 14 turnovers in the first half, several on entry passes into the Wildcats’ post players.

“It just seemed like we were a little careless with the ball and maybe we were pressing a little bit trying to force some passes that weren’t really there,” Isler said. “The thing that’s hurting us is that we had turnovers late in the game and we also missed four free throws late in the game. Our free-throw shooting has kind of been an Achilles’ heel for about a month now.”

Amarillo, which lost to Roswell on Friday, got a shot of confidence early when Adam Hughes and Cody Collins connected on 3-pointers in the first five minutes.

“That helped us. I think we took better shots than we did last night (against the Coyotes). I thought we did a better job tonight of not taking the early shot, moving it and getting into a better rhythm to shoot the ball,” Amarillo High coach John Smith said.

The Wildcats abandoned a zone defense they periodically used in the first two quarters as soon as the second half began. The third period started with baskets from Thornsbury, Isler and Hill to enable Clovis to cut the lead to 24-23. But it would be another full quarter, however, before the ‘Cats finally got over the hump — if only temporarily.

“In the second half, we started pressing to pick up our intensity — and that helped. But there’s really no excuse, we just came out flat (to start the game),” Isler said. “We’re the kind of team that has to come out and play two halves and we just didn’t do that tonight. We’ve got to regroup and get ready for Roswell High next week (Thursday) on the road, because that’ll be a tough game.”