Clovis senior Tigg Bunton powers his way to the basket past Amarillo Tascosa’s J.R. Scott during the first half of their game Tuesday at Rock Staubus Gymnasium. CNJ staff photo: Eric Kluth
Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
The opener for the Clovis boys basketball team gave several inexperienced varsity players opportunity to show their stuff.
It also proved that inexperienced varsity players do have nerves their first game.
But at the end of the night, Clovis got critical plays from seniors Dominique Easterlin, Tigg Bunton and Tizrick Phillips to win a 56-55 squeaker Tuesday over Amarillo Tascosa.
Tied at 53 after a pair of Easterlin free throws with 1:30 to play, Phillips stepped in front of a pass by the Rebels’ 5-foot, 5-inch guard Jeff Gilmore — who scored 21 points for the visitors. The steal eventually led to an Easterlin 3-point shot with 1:13 left to give Clovis a 56-53 lead.
“They ran the play for me. After the free throws, it felt like my shot was coming back,” said Easterlin, who scored 11 points. “It felt pretty good.”
Gilmore cut the lead to a single point by hitting a shot with 55 seconds remaining. After a pair of missed Clovis free throws, Tascosa had one more chance.
But, following a sharp pass by Gilmore into the paint, Rebels forward Ben McCulloch missed two shots — the second blocked by Easterlin into the hands of Bunton as time ran out.
“I was kind of swatting at everything the first half. It kind of got me in foul trouble,” Easterlin said. “I was just thinking in my head, ‘Go straight up.’”
Bunton led Clovis with 23 points and 12 rebounds while Easterlin also hauled in 10 boards.
“He (Gilmore) made a great play there and we just missed a couple of shots there underneath the basket,” Tascosa coach Mike Carroll said. “We had our chance.”
Both squads played the game at Rock Staubus Gymnasium without regular contributors. Tascosa (2-4) was without three regulars due to injuries, according to coach Mike Carroll.
Meanwhile, Clovis (1-0) was missing the services of several football players who won’t be done with that sport until Saturday, forcing Wildcats coach J.D. Isler to utilize the likes of freshman Jaden Isler as well as sophomores Cody Thornsbury and Michael Lewis.
Isler, the son of the Clovis coach, had a rough start but ended with nine points while Phillips and Lewis added seven and four points respectively.
“Those young guys were in kind of a tough spot. But this game will help them; they’ll be a little bit better next week,” J.D. Isler said. “Our seniors stepped up there at the end and that’s what your seniors are supposed to do.”
Clovis led early by a 14-5 count but saw that slip away thanks to the play of Gilmore and J.R. Scott, who finished with 18 points. The Rebels, who will also play at a Clovis tournament later this month, went up 39-27 early in the third quarter before the Wildcats recorded a 16-1 run to surge back ahead.
“We just had to work on our break and execute on defense,” Phillips said. “And stop them from penetrating to the hole.”