Published: 2:12 pm, Sun. Jan. 10th, 2016Updated: 2:10 pm
The Bulldog basketball team closed out the Gallup Invitational on a high note Saturday afternoon, fending off a late comeback attempt by the Cougars of Tohatchi to hold on for a 52-48 win and a seventh-place finish.
The Artesia boys overcame a late first-half charge by the Cougars that put them on top by three at the break, 29-26, with a stellar third quarter, posting 20 points while limiting Tohatchi to just eight.
Senior Justin Houghtaling, who had been forced to sit out much of the second quarter with three fouls, came back with a vengeance in the period, completing a pair of old-fashioned three-point plays, putting one off the glass, and going 2-2 from the free-throw line.
Carlos Caldera, meanwhile, posted a pair of buckets and a trey in the quarter, and Taylor Null logged three points on a layup and one from the stripe.
The 46-37 edge the ‘Dogs carried into the fourth turned out to be vital, as the Cougars came roaring back.
While Artesia went scoreless from the field through the first four minutes of play, Tohatchi’s Jaden Dolfin hit a pair of jumpers and Karlex Capitan one to help pull the Cougs back within four, 48-44, with 3:44 remaining.
The two squads traded turnovers before Houghtaling was able to end Artesia’s shooting drought with a layup, but Lucas Bowman answered with four points to bring Tohatchi within a shot, 50-48, with a minute left to play.
The Bulldogs threw the ball away with 42 seconds on the clock but stole it back a few later, and the Cougars were slow in fouling, sending Tim Morrison to the stripe with just six seconds remaining on the clock.
Morrison was clutch, hitting both go give Artesia the four-point lead, 52-48, and with Tohatchi’s last-second attempt falling short, that would be the final.
The ‘Dogs overcame a quick start by the Cougars Saturday, with a trio of Houghtaling baskets and one apiece by Ethan Duff and Caldera giving Artesia a 10-6 lead with around three minutes to go in the first. Duff drained a trey and Morrison a shot off the glass to counter five late points from Dolfin, and the boys in orange led 15-11 going into the second.
There, however, the Tohatchi guards came alive, and despite solid work in the paint by Null to compensate for Houghtaling’s exit, the ‘Dogs were outscored 18-11 to trail at the half.
Houghtaling led all scorers on the afternoon with 18 points to cap off a stellar weekend for the senior. He also led the ‘Dogs in scoring Friday versus Deming with 14 points and Thursday against Grants with 22 to earn a well-deserved spot on the All-Tournament Team.
Null finished with 10 points against the Cougars, Duff nine, and Caldera seven. Dolfin had 14 for Tohatchi.
The Bulldogs also cleaned up their free-throw shooting in the second half against the Cougars, something that plagued them against both Deming and Grants.
Friday versus the Wildcats, the ‘Dogs fell into an early hole dug by the duo of Alex and Andres Villa, trailing 20-7 midway through the second quarter. Houghtaling gave Artesia a boost with a trey and a layup to make it a seven-point game, 20-13, but three three-pointers in the period by Deming helped keep the ‘Cats up big at the break, 28-17.
The Bulldogs kicked off the third with a 8-0 run that included two baskets by Caldera and one each from Duff and Null to power back within three, 28-25. But as Andres Villa continued to dominate inside, the Wildcats were able to bump their edge back to 10, 39-29, going into the fourth.
There, the ‘Dogs were once again able to pull within striking distance with plenty of time remaining in the game, 43-41, on three’s by Caldera and Carlos Carrasco and four points from Houghtaling. Villa would launch a few parting shots, however, and as Artesia struggled from the stripe, the ‘Cats did not, holding on for the 55-44 win.
Second to Houghtaling in scoring on the game was Caldera with 13, while Villa finished with 23 points.
The ‘Dogs were 10 of 23 from the line on the game.
Their confidence boosted by their win over Tohatchi, the Bulldogs (5-6) will have a chance to get back on track Tuesday as they join the Lady Bulldogs in hosting Carlsbad at Bulldog Pit. The girls are set to begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by the boys at 7 p.m.