Prep boys hoops: Knights edge ‘Toppers in 2-5A opener

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Del Norte uses fourth quarter run to get past Los Alamos 65-62 to begin district play

By Jose Corral

Mike Kluk said going into district play on a three-game losing streak had an affect on his Los Alamos boys basketball team.
The Hilltoppers lost their fourth straight game after dropping Tuesday’s District 2-5A opener 65-62 against Del Norte at Griffith Gym. Los Alamos, which dropped a pair of games last weekend to Artesia and Lovington, fell to 8-10 overall.
“Mentally they’re just down with four losses in a row and that’s tough. We have to figure out how to break that,” Kluk said. “The last three games before this we turned the ball over way too much. Tonight, we didn’t turn the ball over that much but we couldn’t stop their penetration. We did not take care of business on the defensive end.”
The Hilltoppers led 39-36 going into the final quarter but the Knights (9-8 overall, 1-0 District 2-5A) began their comeback with a triple from Elijuah Hogan that cut Los Alamos’ lead to 46-44 with six minutes left to play. Vincent Goodman scored the Knights next six points to give them a 50-47 lead.
Ramon Roybal’s triple with 3:05 left tied it 52-52, before Goodman and Del Norte point guard Daniel Flores went on a tear and gave the Knights a commanding 62-52 lead with 1:22 left to play. Three-pointers from Roybal and Jack Stewart cut Del Norte’s lead to 65-62 but the Knights ran out the final six seconds to claim the district opening win.   
“We got into a dog fight again,” Kluk said. “Maybe our guys our tired but once we got behind we got even more scrambled. This one hurt because you have hold serve at home and we didn’t do it.”
Troy Hammock had a season-high 18 points and helped the Hilltoppers to a 6-0 run midway through the third frame, which gave Los Alamos its final lead of the game. Hammock’s minutes have increased in the last few games, as junior forward Michael Naranjo recovers from a concussion he suffered during the Jan. 10 game at Taos. Naranjo is expected to return midway through district play, according to Kluk.
“Having Mike Naranjo tonight would’ve helped but Troy is playing better,” Kluk said. “He’s stepping up and he’s doing a great job filling in. We have to get the others to step up too.”
Despite having a vast height advantage, Los Alamos struggled to defend inside the paint, as the Knights found offense close to the rim to take a 13-8 advantage with 42 seconds remaining in the first quarter. The Hilltoppers ended the opening quarter on a 5-point run and a Roybal bucket and foul tied it 13-13.   
Defending inside the perimeter continues to be a problem for Los Alamos.
“That was super frustrating,” Kluk said. “They (Del Norte) just penetrated at will and got all the way into the basket. We didn’t control the paint.”
Del Norte finished with three players in double figures, as Flores tallied a game-high 23 points, while Goodman scored 14 and Hogan had 13.
Roybal finished with 13 points and two triples in the fourth quarter.
Los Alamos continues district play by traveling to face Albuquerque Academy at 7 p.m. tonight. The Hilltoppers also host Goddard in a non-district tilt at 1 p.m. Saturday at Griffith Gym.    
“We need more intensity on defense,” Kluk said. “We should be able to keep Academy below 50. But then we have to score. The problem we had on the road is we didn’t get out of the 40’s (points). Tonight we missed some easy ones and eventually those have got to start dropping.”