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SANTA FE — After one half of play, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys basketball team was reeling.
In the second half, however, the Hilltoppers found their feet and, in doing so, picked up a much-needed District 2-4A win.
After managing just 13 points in the first half Tuesday night against the Santa Fe Demons, Los Alamos took a control of the contest in the third quarter, holding Santa Fe without a field goal for an 8-minute stretch to earn a 47-41 come-from-behind win at Toby Roybal Memorial Gymnasium.
Los Alamos trailed by as many as 14 points in the third quarter after Santa Fe got off to a hot start coming out of the break, but a big 3-pointer from Thomas Russell, along with the most important sequence of the game in which Nate Carver buried four straight free throws, turned the tables on the Demons in a hurry.
Carver was fouled heading to the basket at the 3:51 mark by Santa Fe’s Nick Martinez. Immediately after the call, Martinez started grousing at the officials, something that got him slapped with a technical foul.
Heading to the foul line, Carver calmly sank his foul shots and the technical foul shots, slicing what had been a solid Demon lead down to just four points.
“When I’m shooting free throws, I try not to think at all,” Carver said after the contest. “But before those (free throws), I was thinking ‘momentum shift.’ I knew if I hit these, it’s a two-possession game.”
Santa Fe, which looked ready early in the third quarter to run Los Alamos out of the building, found itself clinging to a 2-point lead heading into the final quarter.
Los Alamos outscored Santa Fe 19-10 in the final quarter to seal the victory. Through more than 6:30 in the quarter, Santa Fe managed just one point, while Russell scored 11 points for Los Alamos, including hitting 6 of 7 from the free throw line when the Demons were forced to foul.
Russell finished with a game-high 18 points.
The win for the Hilltoppers (9-15 overall, 2-4 in 2-4A) gave the team some new life in the district race, although to have any chance of moving into third place — which would mean having to play one less game in the 2-4A tournament — it will have to pull off an upset over Española Valley at home Friday night.
Los Alamos had a chance to get into at least a third-place tie Saturday night against Bernalillo, but Bernalillo prevailed in that game 67-59.
With that loss, the Hilltoppers were playing Tuesday only for a chance to avoid slipping into the 2-4A basement, something that doesn’t come with much of a psychological boost.
“We weren’t in rhythm,” said Hilltopper senior Nick Baker of the opening half. “We were a little uptight. We just didn’t have that rhythm, but we fought through it. Good teams do that.”
Baker, quite possibly the best defensive player in 2-4A, helped limit Santa Fe’s touches near the basket in the first half. Baker had three steals in the first quarter in the paint as Los Alamos held Santa Fe to just four first quarter points.
Unfortunately for the Hilltoppers, they managed just six points in the quarter.
In the second quarter, Santa Fe’s Moses Montoya got hot, dropping in seven points to lead the team on a 13-2 run spanning more than 4:30.
Elliott Nicohlas finished with 15 points to pace the Demons (6-17, 2-4) finishing with nine of the Demons’ 19 second-half points.
Carver had eight points, as did Bobby Sanders coming off the bench.
Santa Fe actually converted more field goals than Los Alamos, but Los Alamos went 19-for-23 at the foul line.
Los Alamos 47,
Santa Fe 41
Los Alamos 6 7 15 19—47
Santa Fe 4 18 9 10—41
Los Alamos — Thomas Russell 4-7 7-9 18, Daniel Salazar 1-7 2-2 4, Nate Carver 1-3 6-6 8, Nick Baker 3-7 0-0 6, Salvador Salaiz 0-2 1-2 1, Bobby Sanders 3-6 1-2 8, Seth Drop 0-2 0-0 0, Skyler Veenis 0-0 2-2 2, Franklin Archuleta 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 12-34 19-23 47.
Santa Fe — Jairo Gutierrez 0-0 0-0 0, Nick Martinez 2-6 2-3 6, Moses Montoya 4-10 0-1 10, Oscar Chavez 3-8 2-5 8, Elliott Nicohlas 7-11 0-0 15, DeVante Pellegrin 0-2 2-4 2, Jordan Booth-Homer 0-0 0-0 0, Wyatt Honstein 0-4 0-0 0, Brandon Lujan 0-0 0-0 0, Rico Gonzales 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 16-41 6-13 41.
3-point goals — LA 3-11 (Russell 2-4, Sanders 1-1, Salazar 0-3, Baker 0-1, Salaiz 0-1, Drop 0-1), SF 3-11 (Montoya 2-5, Nichols 1-1, Honstein 0-3, Martinez 0-2). Total fouls — LA 14, SF 20. Fouled out — Sanders (4th, 3:55), Martinez (4th, 2:22). Technicals — Martinez.