By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
The Clovis trio of J.D. Isler, Jaden Isler and Bryce Hill got an experience they’d never forget at Greyhound Arena Friday night. Northern New Mexico almost gave them, and visiting McMurry University, a loss of the same caliber.
Jaden Isler hit four free throws in the final 26 seconds, and the War Hawks held on for an 85-82 victory after blowing most of a 30-point lead in the final 10 minutes.
Hill and Steven Jones each had 13 to lead the War Hawks, who were well on their way to celebrating a homecoming experience for Hill and the Islers until they had to sweat out a 39-10 run in nine minutes from the Espanola-based Eagles.
“If you can learn a lesson and win, you’re fortunate,” said J.D. Isler, who coached at Clovis High for 10 seasons — four of them with Jaden Isler and Hill — before taking the job with McMurry over the summer. “I think that’s what happened to us tonight.”
With three fans from El Paso, Texas — relatives of an Eagles player — cheering them on against the 200-plus Clovisites backing McMurry, the Eagles looked every bit like the team that came in 0-18, as Hill scored eight points in McMurry’s game-opening 10-0 burst and hit a 3-pointer to finish off an 11-2 run going into halftime.
But up 71-31 with 9:56 to play, McMurry (8-2) made substitutions, Northern New Mexico threw the press on and momentum never switched back.
“For 30 minutes, we played as well as we had all year,” Coach Isler said. “The last 10 minutes, we got really flat.”
Northern New Mexico coach Ryan Cordova said a few things broke the Eagles way and they created some breaks on defense.
“The full-court pressure really gave them fits,” Cordova said. “Once you take Jaden out of the play, they have trouble getting the ball up the floor.”
The Eagles cut the lead to 81-80 with a minute to go after Daniel Molina scored on a turnover under the McMurry basket, and had three chances in the final minute, but missed point-blank shots and lost their final possession when there wasn’t a timeout left to get a trapped ballhandler out of a double team.
“We don’t have a lot of late-game situations,” Cordova said. “We’ve had two, and they were situations where we were down 20 and rallied (like tonight). You expend so much energy coming back that you don’t make crucial plays down the stretch.”
Christian Barraza scored a game-high 22 points on 8-of-13 shooting to lead three Eagles in double figures.
It was a homecoming of sorts for numerous people involved. Cordova was an assistant for Portales native Keith Durham at Fort Lewis College, Clovis High assistant Scott Robinson joined McMurry on the bench and referee Ken Lewis worked the 2008 Class 5A championship — the last game the Clovis trio had in New Mexico before Friday.
Hobbs won 73-71 that March night, but a technical foul Lewis called on Hobbs coach Russ Gilmore helped the Wildcats knot up the game with 15 seconds to go.
Lewis joked that after he made that call, Isler invited him to Clovis’ annual holiday tournament. Isler confirmed the story with a laugh.
It was far from the only fond memory Friday brought up.
“It was awesome,” Coach Isler said. “It’s nice to see Clovis fans. I can’t express how much it means to me and I’m sure it meant a lot to Jaden and Bryce.”
Hill concurred as he emerged from the locker room and checked a cell phone full of text messages from his family.
“I love the game,” Hill said, “but being able to play in front of my mom and the crowd who supported me since I was a freshman in high school … it was a great atmosphere.”
The atmosphere continued long after the game, as the trio caught up with dozens of family and friends who stuck around.
“It’s awesome,” Jaden Isler said, while surviving a bear hug from Clovis’ David Dawson. “I thought there would be a lot of people, but I didn’t think there would be this many.”