The Sandia Prep gymnasium has a noticeable blank space where the boys basketball state championship banners would hang.
And for the second time in as many years, the fourth-seeded Sundevils came excruciatingly close to closing that gap only to see it still remain vacant.
Two foul shots Friday from Hot Springs’ Verrels Lukman with 4.3 seconds left at the Pit following a call that had Sundevils coach Marcos Rivera steaming postgame, then a steal from Randin Gossett on the ensuing Prep inbounds pass left the No. 2 seeded Tigers with a thrilling 45-43 victory in the 3A boys championship game.
“We played our butts off in another tough game, gave ourselves a chance to win,” Rivera said. “Made winning plays down the stretch. If not for a terrible call at the end, we win that game.”
It was wild sequence as the teams were within two points of each other throughout a tense fourth quarter. With 24.9 seconds left, Ruben Garcia hit one of two foul shots to put Hot Springs up 42-40, then Prep’s Jaxon Feit then hit a 3-pointer from the wing for his only bucket of the game with 7.7 seconds to go.
“When (Feit) hit a great shot, we just tried to stay composed,” said Lukman, who finished with 14 points. “We knew that it was still a lot of time. Seven seconds left on the clock, I knew that was enough time to get something going to the basket.”
It was more than enough time as Lukman drove it the length of the court and took it to the iron, where he was met by 6-foot-4 Prep forward Austin Epstein with 4.3 seconds left.
The officials went with the offensive player, awarding two foul shots, putting Lukman in a position similar to one two years ago in the championship game, when he also dropped in both shots.
“I just tried to stay composed,” Lukman said. “Free throws win games and it did (Friday).”
Hot Springs is your Class 3A Boys Champ! pic.twitter.com/4AorULHWHJ
— NMAA (@_NMAA) May 7, 2021
It was a dream scenario, Tigers coach Derek Bean said.
“We had the best kid in the program that was going to take that shot, and he just proved it. He did exactly what he needs to do. This kid, he puts in both of them right there. He put in all the hard work. They put in all the hard work that every coach dreams of. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
Sam Henderson, who scored 21 points for the Sundevils, said the result was a gut punch.
“Every day at practice, every game, we said we were a family and it hurts to go down as a family,” he said. “I think we worked so hard this year and we all wanted it so bad and it’s just, it didn’t go our way. It hurts.”
Cooper McWilliams, who hit all four of his shots for eight Prep points, said winning state was something the team’s eight seniors have talked about for years.
“We’ve all been going to Prep since sixth grade,” he said. “We’ve all talked about it. We knew how good we could be. We knew how good we were in the sixth grade. We lost as a family. I love these guys, they’re my best friends in the world. I’ll love them forever. It just hurts to see my best friends hurting. My coach hurting, everybody I care about hurting.”
No. 2 HOT SPRINGS 45, No. 4 SANDIA PREP 43
Sandia Prep 11 9 7 16 — 43
Hot Springs 11 12 5 17 – 45
SANDIA PREP (11-2): Nick Chavez 1-3 0-0 3; Cooper McWilliams 4-4 0-1 8; Sam Henderson 9-16 1-3 21; Austin Epstein 1-1 2-4 4; Mac Manzanares 2-7 0-0 4; Danny Fontaine 0-1 0-0 0; Jaxon Feit 1-2 0-0 3; Gus Walker 0-0 0-0 0; Matt Leach 0-1 0-0 0. Totals: 18-35 3-8 43.
HOT SPRINGS (14-1): Aljon Pinili 3-6 3-4 11; Verrels Lukman 3-13 8-10 14; Nathan Salcido 2-10 0-0 4; Randin Gossett 3-7 2-3 8; Colton Montoya 0-0 0-0 0; Ruben Garcia 2-2 1-2 5; Ethan Flores 1-4 1-1 3; Gavin McClintock 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-42 15-20 45.
3-point FGs: SP 4-10 (Chavez 1-2, Henderson 2-4, Fontaine 0-1, Feit 1-2, Leach 0-1); HS 2-14 (Pinili 2-5, Lukman 0-3, Salcido 0-4, Gossett 0-1, Flores 0-1). Rebounds: SP 22 (Epstein 8); HS 31 (Gossett 8). Assists: SP 8 (Manzanares); HS 7 (Salcido 3). Turnovers: SP 11; HS 10. Total fouls: SP 22; HS 13. Fouled out: SP, Chavez, Epstein.
— Glen Rosales
Kevin Zwiers thought back to when he took over the Rehoboth Christian boys basketball program and about the last time the Lynx had appeared on a stage like the one they occupied Friday.
“I think this is year 17 now (at Rehoboth),” Zwiers said. “When we took over, we said we wanted to get back here. It’s taken a lot longer than maybe we would have thought, but we’re here.”
Here, and now also state champions.
The Lynx (15-0) on Friday afternoon won the program’s first state title in 44 years, as the No. 1 seed rallied furiously in the second half to overtake No. 2 Jal 55-50 in the Class 2A final at the Pit.
“It means a lot, especially to everyone in our area,” said Rehoboth junior guard Talon West. “This is just for everybody.”
Rehoboth is located just east of Gallup. The Lynx hadn’t played for a blue trophy since 1983 and last won state in 1977.
“Our side of the state, our area has suffered so much in the past year,” Zwiers said. “The joy that we can bring to people is just unbelievable. It lights up people’s eyes.”
Rehoboth Christian authored a stirring comeback to end the school’s championship drought, as the Lynx overcame a season-high 14-point deficit.
The physicality and rebounding by the Panthers (14-1), particularly at the offensive end, staked them to a 35-21 lead midway through the third quarter. But eventually, Jal was caught and passed by the determined Lynx.
Jal turned it over four times during a 10-0 Rehoboth run that sliced the Lynx deficit to 35-31, ending with Mato Chapman’s 3-pointer.
“We switched defenses a little bit, and we started getting after it a little bit,” Zwiers said. “We started making hustle plays. … Really, we feed off that energy. Then we started getting some shots to go down.”
Jal regrouped briefly and carried a four-point lead, 39-35, going into the fourth quarter. But the Lynx scored the first six of the final quarter. Chapman hit another 3 to tie the game at 39, and senior forward Jake Zylstra put Rehoboth in front with a short jumper, 41-39, with 5:57 remaining.
“We had them rattled, it seemed like there, late in the third and in the fourth,” Zwiers said.
Zylstra was outstanding throughout for the Lynx, finishing with a game-high 23 points. He was 9-of-12 shooting from the field. He also had a team-high seven rebounds.
“Coach told me before the game to be offensively aggressive, and that’s a thing I’ve struggled with throughout the year,” Zylstra said, adding, “Today, I seemed to be able to finish at the rim pretty good.”
Jal coach Emmanuel Lujan certainly noticed.
“He knew how to use his body position to get in there,” Lujan said.
The game went back and forth in the fourth quarter. It was tied five times, and there were three lead changes.
Jal’s Jacob Lujan drilled a 3 to square things at 50-all with 1:17 remaining, but Rehoboth scored the final five in the last minute. Two free throws by West with 54 seconds to go put Rehoboth Christian in front for good.
Chapman added 12 points and was 4 of 5 from the arc.
Rehoboth was an impressive 6 of 9 (66.7 percent) from the field in the fourth quarter.
“To me,” said West, who finished with 14 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals for Rehoboth Christian, “this feels so special, because we’ve been talking about this for a really long time.”
Jal itself hadn’t been in a state basketball final since 2000.
“They came down and hit some big shots, and we got out of sorts and turned the ball over,” Lujan said, asked about how the 14-point lead slipped away. “I think we just got ahead of ourselves at times, trying to make a play.”
Josh Cervantes led the Panthers with 18 points and nine rebounds. Rebounding helped get Jal in front, and Rehoboth, to that end, didn’t register an offensive rebound until the second half.
Rehoboth turned the ball over 11 times in the opening two quarters, but finished the game with 15.
NO. 1 REHOBOTH CHRISTIAN 55, NO. 2 JAL 50
JAL (14-1): Jacob Lujan 3-13 2-3 9, Nathan Galindo 0-0 0-2 0, Alexavier Carreon 2-8 1-2 5, Josh Cervantes 5-13 7-10 18, Andres Lujan 1-2 0-0 2, Ethan Sandoval 2-3 0-0 5, Daniel Jones 1-3 3-3 5, Roger Carreon 3-5 0-0 6. Totals 17-46 13-20 50.
REHOBOTH CHRISTIAN (15-0): Talon West 4-11 5-6 14, Isaac Zwiers 1-2 2-2 4, Mato Chapman 4-5 0-1 12, Jake Zylstra 9-12 4-6 23, Casey Joe 0-4 0-0 0, Raeden West 1-5 0-0 2, Reece Black Moon 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-40 11-15 55.
Jal 16 12 11 11 — 50
Rehoboth 8 12 15 20 — 55
3-point goals: J 3-11 (Sandoval 1-2, Cervantes 1-3, J.Lujan 1-5, A.Lujan 0-1); RC 6-18 (Chapman 4-5, T.West 1-2, Zylstra 1-3, R.West 0-4, Joe 0-3, Blak Moon 0-1). Rebounds: J 33 (Cervantes 9); RC 25 (Zylstra 7). Assists: J 11 (Cervantes, Jones 3); RC 10 (T.West 5). Field-goal percentage: J 37%; RC 47.5%. Total fouls: J 12; RC 15. Steals: J 7 (Sandoval 2); RC 10 (T.West 3). Blocked shots: J 0; RC 3 (T.West 2). Turnovers: J 16; RC 15.
Class 4A BOYS (with bracket)