Clovis High's Michael Lewis is fouled by Tascosa's Ruben Solis as he attemptsa layup during Friday's Milk Cow Classic semifinal game at Rock Staubus Gym. (CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle)
After one half, host Clovis seemed in jeopardy of suffering its first loss of the year — in the semifinals of its own Milk Cow Classic boys tournament at Rock Staubus Gym. But the Wildcats exploded in the second half and raced away from Amarillo Tascosa for a 76-48 victory.
Jaden Isler scored 20 points for Clovis (10-0), which will face Rio Rancho (10-1) in the championship of the Milk Cow Classic at 7:30 p.m. today.
For Clovis, getting Isler involved was crucial in stimulating an offense that scored only five points in the first quarter. The Wildcats’ guard didn't take a shot in that opening period.
“We’re used to penetrating, kicking it out and looking for that perimeter shot and Tascosa was just going to stay on the perimeter with us and not let us have that,” said J.D. Isler, Clovis’ coach and Jaden’s father. “We told him, when he attacked the basket, to start looking for those mid-range jump shots.”
The Cats led 25-23 at intermission and by only a point (27-26) two minutes into the third quarter. But a 3-pointer from Clovis’ Bryce Hill was followed by a pair of free throws by Cody Thornsbury and another Hill field goal as the home team pushed out to a 34-26 advantage.
Clovis stretched the advantage to double figures with 3:30 left in the period when Michael Lewis, who scored 19 points, converted a 3-point play.
Thornsbury began the game wearing a plastic mask to protect a broken nose he suffered in a quarterfinal victory over Pampa on Thursday.
It didn’t take long for the mask to come off, however. Just after Thornsbury removed the facial apparatus, on a feed from Hill, he scored a basket in the second quarter to cut the Tascosa lead to one point.
“He caught an elbow to the nose and it is broken, so we wanted to protect it,” J.D. Isler said. “But he just said, ‘Hey coach, I just can’t see.
“In the second half, all of our guards did a lot better job, and we also got the ball inside to Lewis a little bit better.”
Tascosa was led by Drew Taylor’s 12 points, while Ruben Solis added 10 for the Rebels (9-7). Hill contributed 11 to Clovis’ victory while Manuel Robles and Thornsbury chipped in nine and eight points, respectively.
The Clovis coach expressed confidence in his team’s ability to play with Rio Rancho — a squad that has knocked off preseason No. 1 Manzano twice this season, including in Friday’s other Milk Cow Classic semifinal.
"People can play us close for awhile, but we really feel like the tempo of the game gets in their legs,” Isler said. “It’s been obvious in the third or fourth quarters of almost every game so far this season.
“I know Rio Rancho has great athletes and they’re going to come out and run. I just don’t think they’re used to running as much as we do.”
Milk Cow Classic
Santa Fe St. Michael’s 61, Abilene Cooper 58
Santa Fe High 67, Pampa 45
Rio Rancho 58, Manzano 56, OT
Clovis 76, Amarillo Tascosa 48
Abilene Cooper vs. Pampa, 11:10 a.m.
St. Michael’s vs. Santa Fe High, 2:50 p.m.
Manzano vs. Tascosa, 4:10 p.m.
Rio Rancho vs. Clovis, 7:30 p.m.