LA can't hold on to lead at the half vs. Belen

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By Mike Cote

Tuesday night’s game seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team to break out of its funk and with a solid first half, it seemed to be well on its way.
But in the second half, the Hilltoppers struggled to hold on to the basketball and the Belen Eagles took advantage.
Los Alamos had a big second quarter, limiting Belen to just 6 points and using its transition game effectively to build a 6-point lead at the half, but ran into several problems on offense in the second half.
Belen was the beneficiary of 14 Los Alamos turnovers in the second half and, despite getting sloppy itself late, picked up a 51-43 victory at Griffith Gymnasium.
The Hilltoppers, who won just one game last season, are still trying to break into the win column this season. And with a tough slate of games in their near future, including the upcoming Joe Armijo Invitational tournament, the Hilltoppers had one of their best shots to pick up a victory against Belen, who, like the Hilltoppers, have struggled so far.
Belen went into Tuesday’s game having been blown out in a pair of contests to open the season, against Atrisco Heritage and Roswell. The teams not only had similar records but were scoring points at a similar pace.
Things looked like they might be going the Hilltoppers’ way as the Eagles (1-2) were ice cold in the first half. They connected on just 6 of 20 chances from the floor, that despite the fact many of their first quarter looks were good ones.
Los Alamos didn’t have a great opening quarter. It managed just 8 points and coughed up the ball 6 times.
However, Los Alamos (0-4) seemed to have the turnover problem corrected in the second quarter while at the same time, its defense stiffened. Belen struggled against Los Alamos’ half-court trap and Skyler Veenis and Franklin Archuleta raced down the floor for buckets in transition.
The Hilltoppers led 24-18 at the break — the lead would’ve been 9 if not for a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Belen’s Thomas Cordova, the only 3-pointer knocked in by either team in the first half.
But the third quarter would prove to be disastrous for the Hilltoppers.
With the Eagles hunkered down in the half court, Los Alamos’ offense got completely out of sync. Los Alamos’ passing was all over the place and the Eagles had three steals in the quarter they turned into points on the other end.
Belen point guard Colton Lewis, who had a quiet first half, had 7 of his team-high 14 points in the third quarter, including a late 3-pointer to give his team a 35-30 edge going into the fourth.
Unlike the second quarter, Los Alamos wasn’t able to fix its offensive issues in the fourth quarter, but Belen ran into problems of its own, committing 8 fouls, most of them needlessly, and sending Los Alamos to the foul line 12 times.
The Hilltoppers trimmed the 11-point lead early in the quarter down to 3 with 3:16 left, but Lewis and Cordova hit big buckets to preserve the win.
Archuleta finished with a game-high 19 points, 11 in the second half, and Veenis finished with a double-double, scoring 12 points and collecting 10 rebounds. No other Hilltoppers had more than 4 points.
Lewis was the only Eagles player to finish in double-figures, however, the Eagles spread the ball around well, getting all but two players on its roster into the scoring column.
Los Alamos opens the Armijo Invitational at 1:15 p.m. Thursday against Albuquerque.
That tournament, which continues through Saturday, is hosted by Albuquerque Academy. Los Alamos and Academy are on opposite sides of this year’s bracket.