The Class 5A boys state basketball tournament began with Albuquerque owning four of the top six seeds.
But it’s the other two that will collide in Saturday night’s championship game at the Pit. And someone is about to end a very long drought.
In Thursday night’s semifinals, Clovis upset Eldorado in overtime, and Las Cruces rallied from 14 down in the second half to oust Hobbs. The Wildcats and Bulldawgs tip off at 8 p.m. Saturday.
Clovis hasn’t won a state title since 1979. It’s been even longer for Las Cruces, the 1976 big-school champion.
“Somebody will make history,” Bulldawgs coach William Benjamin said.
No. 4 CLOVIS 69, No. 1 ELDORADO 66 (OT): Life on the edge has certain, undeniable fringe benefits for the thrill-seeking Wildcats (23-6).
“We hate living on the edge,” Clovis coach Matt King insisted. “But we’ve had two games where we’ve had to do it and we’ve done it well enough.”
Although Clovis squandered an eight-point lead over the final 2:15 of regulation, the Wildcats made all of their field-goal attempts in overtime and eliminated defending state champion Eagles (20-8).
After the last two rounds of this year’s tournament, Clovis was feeling equal parts elation and emotional exhaustion. It was the second, pulse-pounding OT win in as many days for the Wildcats. Today will be an off day.
“We really need it,” said senior guard D.J. Blackmon after a 17-point, 11-rebound effort. “It’s just been an emotional rollercoaster the last two days.”
Two months ago, Eldorado had a furious rally over the final three minutes to force Clovis into overtime, and the visiting Eagles escaped with an OT win. In the rematch, the Wildcats experienced some serious and unwelcome flashbacks as a couple of late, and sloppy, turnovers supplied Eldorado oxygen and extended the game. Same as last time.
But Clovis is proving to be indestructible this week.
Other than a distinct rebounding advantage (55-38) over the Eagles, Clovis’ stat line was not glaringly upbeat: 42 percent from the field, 15 percent from the arc, 48 percent from the free-throw line.
“And we beat the No. 1 team in the state,” King said, incredulously. “That says a lot about the character of our kids, the toughness of our kids.”
Senior point guard John Dawson, who finished with 13 points and six assists, hit a go-ahead free throw with 53.9 seconds left in OT, and Willie McCray added a basket with 25 seconds remaining.
With Eldorado’s leading scorer, Cullen Neal, having fouled out with 1:06 left in overtime, the Eagles turned to Toben Brazier for the last shot. He launched a high 3-pointer off the glass at the final buzzer, but it didn’t touch the rim.
Neal, in his final game before he heads off to St. Mary’s, finished with 28 points, three rebounds and three assists.
After Dawson missed two free throws late, the Eagles tied the game on a 10-foot turnaround jumper by sophomore Zach Gentry with 35 seconds to go.
“There’s no doubt we were gonna win the game,” Dawson said, “but I can’t say we weren’t nervous about it.”
No. 6 LAS CRUCES 74, No. 7 HOBBS 68: The Bulldawgs (23-7) were getting blown out of the Pit by the Eagles (22-9) in the first half, but roared back and reached its first title game in 16 years.
After a 10-0 run by Hobbs in the early stages of the second quarter, which included a pair of 3-pointers from Adrian Sanchez, the Eagles led 29-13 and Benjamin burned his third timeout of the half.
His message: “Hobbs will give you an opportunity to get back in the game.”
Las Cruces’ comeback was methodical, and efficient. An initial push got the Dawgs to within eight at 39-31 at halftime after Kai Williams’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer. However, Hobbs answered and led 46-32 midway through the third quarter.
But when Hobbs’ Dane Pannell, the Eagles’ leading scorer, got into foul trouble, things began to go awry for Hobbs.
“That really hurt them,” Benjamin said.
Fouls were an issue for Hobbs; the Bulldawgs made 18 free throws in the second half, compared to just eight for the Eagles. Gilbert Sigala’s two free throws with 43.1 seconds to go broke a 68-all tie.
The Bulldawgs are the third 5A school from Las Cruces to play for a 5A title in the last four years, after Mayfield in 2010 and Onate in 2011.
Williams had 26 points for Las Cruces, Pannell 21 for Hobbs.
No. 4 CLOVIS 69, No. 1 ELDORADO 66 (OT)
CLOVIS (23-6): John Dawson 13, Kamal Cass 6, Drew Cole 14, Willie McCray 4, Dijon Ford 6, D.J. Blackmon 17, Marshall Winn 9. Totals 26-62 15-31 69.
ELDORADO (20-8): Cullen Neal 28, Kane Martinez 12, Zach Gentry 7, Toben Brazier 12, Zach Lee 7. Totals 22-57 20-26 66.
Clovis 15 16 10 17 11 — 69
Eldorado 10 21 12 15 8 — 66
3-point goals: C 2 (Cole 2); E 2 (Neal 2). Total fouls: C 22; E 21. Fouled out: C, Cass; E, Neal, Martinez. Rebounds: C 55 (Blackmon 11); E 38 (Gentry 13). Assists: C 13 (Dawson 6); E 11 (Neal 3). Turnovers: C 15; E 17.
No. 6 LAS CRUCES 74, No. 7 HOBBS 68
HOBBS (22-9): Terrell Wright 11, Jamiah Smith 4, Dane Pannell 21, Adrian Sanchez 14, Jordan Chavarria 3, Earl Woods 15. Totals 25-43 13-21 68.
LAS CRUCES (23-7): Joseph Garza 14, J.T. Romney 4, Malik Woods 8, Gilbert Sigala 6, Trevor Noel 13, Kai Williams 26, Kamryn Dixon 3. Totals 24-41 24-31 74.
Hobbs 17 22 17 12 — 68
Las Cruces 9 22 23 20 — 74
3-point goals: H 5 (Sanchez 4, Pannell); LC 2 (Williams 2). Total fouls: H 25; LC 18. Fouled out: H, Wright; LC, Dixon. Rebounds: H 27 (Woods 6); LC 23 (Noel 6). Assists: H 17 (Wright 5); LC 17 (Sigala 6). Turnovers: H 22; LC 16.