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Boys basketball: Toppers grab big win on the road

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By Mike Cote

BERNALILLO — In a back-and-forth contest Wednesday night, the final swing went the way of the Los Alamos Hilltoppers.With just 16 seconds remaining in a big District 2AAAA boys basketball game, Chris Hejde hit a 10-foot jumper to give Los Alamos a one-point edge. Los Alamos got the ball back on the other end of the floor and Ben Allen canned a pair of free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining to ice a big 79-76 win against the Bernalillo Spartans.The win was a big one in several ways. Not only was it a district road win against an underrated opponent, not only did it keep the Hilltoppers in second-place in the 2AAAA regular season title race, but it was accomplished without the aid of center Alex Kirk, who sat out with the ankle injury he suffered Jan. 29 against Capital.“It was just a good win,” Hilltopper guard Michael Helland said. “It’s tough not having Alex, but we came through. We hung tough.”Without Kirk, the team’s leading scorer throughout this season, the ’Toppers had to find other sources for their offense.The big source Wednesday night was Ben Allen, who was lights-out all evening. Allen nailed 9 of 11 shot from the floor and 9 of 10 free throw attempts to finish with a game-high 28 points.Allen had the monster stat line against Bernalillo, but he had plenty of help from twin brother Nik Allen, who dropped in 16 and Helland, who finished with 10.Nik Allen had to deal with foul trouble throughout the second half Wednesday, picking up his fourth foul with about 2:10 remaining in the third quarter.When he went to the bench, Los Alamos had an 11-point edge. When he stood back up to check in at the start of the fourth quarter, the score was tied.Los Alamos had one of the best shooting nights of its season against Bernalillo (10-11 overall, 1-3 in 2AAAA), converting on 28 of 54 field goal attempts (51.9 percent) and 21 of 25 attempts from the charity stripe (84.0 percent).It would need all of that good shooting, however, because it struggled getting rebounds on both ends of the floor, the placeswhere Los Alamos sorely missed Kirk.The Spartans did an excellent job of crashing the boards, one of the big reasons it opened a 20-10 advantage after one quarter. Thanks to some good second-chance efforts, the Spartans led by as many as 13 with 5:12 remaining in the first half.In one of the many big momentum swings in the contest, however, the Hilltoppers (15-7 overall, 3-1 in 2AAAA) put together a scrappy 10-1 run to pull within four.With the spread still four after a Helland jumper, Spartan head coach Terry Darnell was slapped with a technical foul. Ben Allen hit one of the two ensuing free throw attempts, then Hellend dropped in another short jumper as time expired in the half.It would be Los Alamos’ turn to squander a big lead in the third quarter, Following Allen’s steal-and-bucket to put the ’Toppers up 49-38, Nik would be called for a reach in, sending him to the bench.Without Nik, Los Alamos’ best defensive player, the Spartans got deep into the paint on four straight possessions, converting three field goals and a pair of foul shots. Bernalillo center Ivan Luna had seven of his 17 points in the third quarter to help his team knot the score at 53.The two teams traded jabs and turnovers throughout the final quarter, with seven lead changes and 10 combined giveaways.The Hilltoppers had trouble hanging onto the ball, partially because of a good trapping and pressing scheme employed by Bernalillo. They would turn the ball over 20 times.“We had to calm down,” Helland said. “We were always trying to rush things, so we had to settle down and make the easy passes.”Hejde’s two field goals in the final quarter were gigantic. He buried a 3-pointer with 1:21 remaining to tie the score at 73 — Los Alamos trailed by six at one point in the quarter — before his clutch jumper that would ultimately decide the game.Hejde had nine points coming off the bench, not missing a shot of any kind on the evening.Los Alamos will host Taos Saturday night.