The Portales Rams overcame a stifling Pojoaque defense to post a 52-35 first-round win Friday in the Portales Shoot-Out .
In the battle of ranked teams, the Elks fought the Rams to a 19-19 tie at the half after they grabbed their first lead late in the first quarter. A smothering half-court Pojoaque defense kept the Rams (6-3) offensive looks to a minimum in the first half. But with perseverance and a few defensive adjustments of their own, the Rams slowly wore the visitors down and got more shots off in turn.
“It was a good win for us, we finally played all four quarters,” Portales junior Phoenix Russell said. “We didn’t play just one half.”
Russell, who ended the game with 10 points, including a 3-pointer that tied the score at the half, said defense was the other key to the win.
“We had a lot of defensive intensity out there,” Russell said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight though, they’re a good team and well coached.”
Ram senior Garrett Hancock hit a layup just before the end of the third quarter to put Portales in the lead for good at 33-32.
Senior Andrew Villanueva, after being covered up from beyond the arc most of the game tossed in a 3-pointer with 5:29 to play to make it 38-32. Russell added back-to-back goals inside the paint to give the Rams a 42-33 edge. One more trey from Villanueva, who finished with a game-high 18 points, and the Elks were done.
“After a loss against Artesia, we told our kids we had to come out and play 32 minutes tonight,” Rams coach Mark Gallegos said. “We got down three or four there but we never panicked. I was real proud of how we handled things there at the end.”
Gallegos said his team was forced to mix up defensive looks to keep Pojoaque off balance. Portales (6-3) pressed early and switched a few times between zone and man-to-man.
Portales put Pojoaque on the line 11 times but the Elks shot a pathetic 45 percent from the stripe. Portales made 5-of-7 free throws.
Senior Luke Salazar led the Elks (7-6) with 15 points.
Portales plays West Las Vegas 6 p.m. today in the round-robin tournament.
“We reminded our kids we can’t come out flat tomorrow,” Gallegos said. West came out a little flat today but they’ll be ready tomorrow. During a tournament you’ve got to put two games together.”