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Despite what could’ve been a disastrous first quarter Wednesday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team pulled things together in the second half to make a game of it against the St. Michael’s Horsemen.
Los Alamos was shut out in the first quarter of Wednesday night’s contest at Griffith Gymnasium, but its team defense, which broke down in the second half the night before in Moriarty, came through when it needed to. While Los Alamos never led in the contest, or got any closer to the Horsemen than five points early in the second quarter, it managed to keep the final three quarters of the contest respectable.
The Horsemen, one of the top programs in Class AAA and an annual opponent of the Hilltoppers, earned a 43-30 victory in their season opener. The Hilltoppers, meanwhile, fell to 0-4.
Going up against the Horsemen, who have advanced to the state title game twice in the past four seasons, winning the championship in 2006-07, had the Hilltoppers feeling jumpy before the contest.
“For a lot of our kids, part of it was nerves playing a good team,” Los Alamos first-year head coach Matt King said. “The other part of that was ourselves. We’ve had three or four different starting lineups in four games. We’re still trying to figure ourselves out.”
Los Alamos went 0-for-8 from the floor in the first quarter, missing three layups.
Fortunately for the Hilltoppers, their team defense started off the game considerably better than their offense.
The Horsemen, who love to push the tempo and can penetrate with their guards about as well as any team in the state, found little room to operate in the Hilltoppers’ interior throughout the contest. The team defense particularly came up big in the first quarter.
Instead of cracking Los Alamos’ defense, St. Mike’s spent much of the quarter throwing the ball around the perimeter and managed to get off just eight shots.
Hilltopper Travis Richins, who had the best game of his season-to-date Wednesday, helped anchor Los Alamos’ defense in the first half — Los Alamos trailed just 10-0 after one quarter and 23-11 at the break — also started to get some touches on the low block in the second quarter.
With a couple of good power moves, Richins dropped in buckets in both the second and third quarters to finish with six points. Richins also grabbed two offensive rebounds in the contest.
Los Alamos’ presence in the paint through much of its previous three games had been spotty, but a more concerted effort was made to work the ball down low against St. Mike’s.
“We always want to be balanced between penetration and post production,” Richins said. “We picked up better in the second half with post touches.”
While the offense got better in the second half, Los Alamos still managed just 19 points following the break. Nick Baker scored five of his seven points in the second half and had two assists in the third quarter.
For the Horsemen, guard Josh Roybal was 5-for-5 in the first half, although he didn’t take a single shot in the second half. He and Antonio Garcia both finished with 10 points, the only two players Wednesday to reach double-figures.
For Los Alamos, Thomas Russell had nine points, all after the half.
NOTE: Wednesday’s game was the one and only appearance Los Alamos will make at home in December. It will play in three road tournaments this month before its next home game Jan. 4 when it hosts Volcano Vista, the school at which King was an assistant just before taking the job at Los Alamos.