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Carlos Caldera puts up a three as Ethan Duff looks on during the second quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Carlos Caldera puts up a three as Ethan Duff looks on during the second quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Tuesday’s bout between the Artesia Bulldogs and Portales Rams was another low-scoring defensive standoff, similar to the first half of the ‘Dogs’ meeting Saturday with Centennial.

But whereas the Hawks were able to ride a third-quarter burst of offense to a win, the boys in orange controlled the tempo, made the clutch shots when it mattered, and held on for the win in their first game at Bulldog Pit since Dec. 12, 39-37.

“I thought defensively again we did a great job all game,” head coach Michael Mondragon said today. “The effort was there, and I really liked the way our guys competed. Ultimately, we made enough shots to win the game, we knocked down some key free throws, and we kept our intensity up on defense.”

The ‘Dogs got on the board first Tuesday in a somewhat frenetic opening quarter that saw the two teams tearing up and down the court in an effort to set the pace.

Ethan Duff posted one of two from the line one minute in, and Taylor Null delivered the game’s first basket at the 2:27 mark to make it 3-0. A Carlos Carrasco layup and three-pointer from Duff made it 8-2 going into the second.

Two more treys by Duff and Carlos Caldera put the Bulldogs up 14-6 early in the quarter, but the Rams were able to reel off eight unanswered to knot the game at 14 with 2:41 left in the half. An offensive putback by Justin Houghtaling around the two-minute mark kept the ‘Dogs in front, but a Tyrese Dawson longball gave Portales its first lead of the night at the break, 17-16.

Caleb Brewer would tie things back up early in the third on a wide-open shot off the glass, and a pair from the stripe and a jumper by Null put Artesia back in control, 22-18.

Duff’s third three-pointer of the night and a coast-to-coast layup off the steal by the speedy junior quickly made it a 10-point game, 28-18, but the Rams were able to pull back within six going into the final eight minutes, 30-24.

Solid work in the paint by Houghtaling to open the period put the Bulldogs back up by 10, a margin that proved to be vital. Portales embarked on a 9-0 run as the game fell from the midway point to 42 seconds, slashing Artesia’s advantage to one, 36-35.

Both teams missed the front end of a one-and-one as the clock ticked down to 15, but Houghtaling would deliver a clutch pair to give the ‘Dogs a three-point edge, 38-35. Artesia backed off to allow the Rams a shot in the paint that made it 38-37, and Caldera was fouled with one second showing on the clock.

The senior hit the first of two and missed the second, but in a prime example of Follow Your Shot 101, leapt forward to snag his own rebound and prevent a final attempt by Portales.

Duff finished with 12 points to lead the ‘Dogs in scoring, followed by Houghtaling with 10 and Null with seven. Jordan Davis had 14 for the Rams.

Artesia shot 27 percent from the field on the night, two field goals less than the boys in red, but were a solid 50 percent from the stripe to Portales’ 3-11. The Bulldogs were also low on turnovers, committing just six in the first half.

“I really like the way we’re playing right now,” said Mondragon. “We’re improving, and we’re making strides in all areas of the game.

“We just can’t have these little lapses without scoring. We’re going three or four minutes sometimes without scoring, and that’s something we need to work on. But it was definitely exciting to come out with a win, especially in front of a good home crowd.”

The ‘Dogs will now prepare to hit the road again tomorrow for the 72nd Annual Gallup Invitational. They’ll open with Grants at 6 p.m. Thursday. The tourney bracket also includes Gallup, Tohatchi, Deming, St. Pius, Kirtland Central and Sandia Prep.

“We’re going to be playing the No. 1 team in the state in Grants tomorrow night, but we just have to go out and compete and not worry about what anybody else is doing,” Mondragon said. “We just have to worry about us, concentrate on scoring more effectively, more consistently, and just take care of the ball the way we did last night. Our ultimate goal is to be playing our best basketball come district, and I feel like this weekend will give us an opportunity to improve the way we need to to reach that goal.”

The Bulldogs will return to the Pit Jan. 12 to join the Lady Bulldogs in hosting Carlsbad for Round 1 of the Eddy County War series.

“We just want to thank all the people who came out last night,” said Mondragon. “We really had a good crowd, and hopefully we’ll see everybody Tuesday night at the Pit. It’s the Eddy County rivalry, and we’d love to see everybody out supporting the boys and girls.”