By Kevin Wilson
The Portales Rams took away a 59-48 loss and a valuable lesson about District 4-3A Saturday night: stopping Jawaan Payne and stopping his Lovington squad are not one and the same.
“You tell someone you hold Jawaan Payne to six points and you’re not in the game,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said, “they’ll tell you you’re crazy.”
Call Gallegos crazy, then, and call the Lovington Wildcats the runaway favorite in 4-3A. The Wildcats’ star point guard was held in check for the night, but his teammates more than picked up the slack.
Jared Swenson scored eight of his game-high 15 points in a 25-5 first quarter, and the visiting Wildcats (21-4, 5-1 district) spent the rest of the night holding off the Rams with a mix of hot shooting and solid defense.
“Starting off with a big lead like that is huge because they’re so disciplined and so well-coached,” Lovington coach Rick Black said. “If those guys get a lead, they’ll get you.”
Swenson and Payne made sure that wouldn’t happen for Portales (7-14, 2-3). Payne didn’t score until midway through the second quarter, but made enough of an impact with four first-quarter assists. Two of those went to Swenson on 3-pointers, as the Wildcats took a 10-0 lead just over two minutes into the contest.
Swenson capped off the first with a baseline jumper off a Portales turnover, ending a period that saw Lovington shoot 69 percent (11-of-16) from the floor.
“You can’t play as bad as we did defensively,” Gallegos said. “They had 12 possessions in the first quarter, we got one stop. We never, never challenged them.”
Lovington led by as much as 25 midway through the second quarter and held the Rams to 36 percent shooting (16-of-45) for the night.
The Wildcats only had two double-figure scorers (Tommy Woods added 11).
“I was really pleased with our overall balance,” Black said, “on both ends of the floor.”
The Rams rallied in the second half, behind the long-range shooting of Chris Carter (13 points) and the inside play of Seth Clabaugh (10 points). Portales had a 13-3 run that bridged the third and fourth quarters, but never got closer than double digits after the game’s first four minutes.
“You can’t spot a team like that a 20-point lead,” said Gallegos, who added that the huge lead meant the Rams had to play man defense all night to force quick turnovers. “We’ve got to be able to mix it up (on defense) and because of the big lead we can’t.”
The Rams finish their four-game homestand Monday against Artesia, followed by Friday’s regular-season finale at New Mexico Military Institute. Portales is locked into third place in the district and will host Ruidoso to open the District 4-3A tournament.
“We’re in the exact same position as last year,” Gallegos said, noting that the Rams upset NMMI to get to the district title game. “The difference is, what is the character of our kids?
“We stepped up with our confidence and got on a roll (last season) I hope we’ll step up, I think we’ll step up.”
In the junior varsity game, Portales defeated Lovington 45-37.
Portales 63, Lovington 56
LOVINGTON — Sophomore Morgan Hill flirted with a double-double, with 18 points and eight rebounds, to help keep the Lady Rams perfect in District 4-3A play.
“I think Morgan did really well on the boards, both offensively and defensively,” Portales coach Brenda Gomez said. “She dominated the game in the paint, which she’s capable of doing.”
Erika Cook added 17 points for Portales (17-4, 5-0), while Roni Gomez and Kassandra Richards each had 14.
Portales will host two games this week to close out the regular season — Tuesday against Ruidoso and Friday against Class 4A Goddard.