By Dave Wagner
The Portales Rams accomplished one of their missions Tuesday night — get 6-foot-8 Clovis senior center Tigg Bunton out of the game.
But the Wildcats made do without their star player, fighting off a scrappy Rams effort for a 57-47 win at the PHS gym.
Senior forward Dominique Easterlin scored 13 points and senior guard John Props added 12 for the Class 5A Wildcats (14-1), who opened a 14-point lead in the second quarter but had a hard time putting the pesky Rams away.
“We’re quick enough to play on the perimeter with people, and we’re big enough to play inside with people,” Wildcats coach J.D. Isler said. “Being able to play a variety of styles has really helped this team.”
Senior guard Chris Carter scored 11 points and junior guard Chris Adkins added 10 for the Rams (8-6), who had a four-game winning streak snapped but gave a good account of themselves.
“I hope this was a learning experience for us,” Portales coach Mark Gallegos said. “I hope we can build on it.”
Portales scored the game’s first three points, but Bunton went over the smaller Rams for two baskets and senior Elliott Hita added a pair of free throws to give the Wildcats the lead for good.
Props nailed a 3-pointer from the left wing and went into the lane for a jumper on consecutive trips to expand the margin to 23-9 with just under six minutes left in the half. But Bunton went out less than a minute later with his third foul, and the Rams closed the half on a 13-3 run to pull to 26-22.
Bunton converted a 3-point play at the start of the third period, but was called for an over-the-back foul less than a minute later and compounded it with a technical — fouling him out of the game with nine points.
Bunton’s departure forced the Wildcats out of their comfort zone, Isler said.
“Tigg’s done a good job of staying out of foul trouble this year, but he got frustrated tonight and handled it very poorly,” he said. “We did an extremely poor job of holding our composure when it got physical.
Gallegos thought his team missed its chance in the third quarter, especially after Bunton exited.
“We got the game exactly like we wanted it,” he said. “We got Tigg out of the game, but we couldn’t convert offensively.”
The Rams managed only Carter’s two free throws on the technical and a layup by Jack Hale in the period, and the Cats eventually rebuilt their lead to 14 points early in the final stanza.
Clovis had just one field goal in the final quarter, but put the game away with 16-of-20 free throw shooting, including 7-of-8 for senior point guard Tizrick Phillips. Portales pulled to 54-47 with 40 seconds left before Phillips hit one free throw and senior guard Jacob Jones added two more.
Isler said the Wildcats adjusted pretty well sans Bunton.
“In the second half, we had to play some combinations we weren’t used to,” he said. “But I think our kids did a good job of handling it. Defensively, we rebounded pretty well in the second half and I think our guards played pretty tough defense.”
Clovis 57, Portales 47
Clovis (14-1) — Tizrick Phillips 0 7-8 7, Jordan Moore 0 0-0 0, Elliott Hita 0 2-2 2, Jacob Jones 1 5-6 7, John Props 4 3-4 12, Tigg Bunton 4 1-1 9, Jaden Isler 0 0-0 0, Wendell Belford 0 0-1 0, Devin Sweet 2 3-6 7, Dominique Easterlin 4 5-7 13. Totals 15 26-35 57.
Portales (8-6) — Cruz Ontiveros 0 0-1 0, Daniel Aranda 2 4-4 8, Chris Kirchner 1 1-4 3, Bo Gabriel 3 3-4 9, Trevor Ferguson 0 0-0 0, Chris Adkins 4 0-1 10, Daniel Boan 1 0-1 2, Chris Carter 3 4-4 11, Tyler Johnson 0 0-0 0, Jack Hale 1 2-2 4. Totals 15 14-21 47.
Clovis 16 10 13 18 — 57
Portales 9 13 4 21 — 47
3-pointers — Clovis, Props. Portales, Adkins 2, Carter. Assists — Clovis 5 (Phillips 3), Portales 9 (four tied with 2). Total fouls — Clovis 21, Portales 26. Fouled out — Bunton, Boan. Technicals — Bunton. JV score — Clovis 46, Portales 45.