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Carlos Carrasco puts one off the glass over Carlsbad’s Gage Shoup during the first quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Carlos Carrasco puts one off the glass over Carlsbad’s Gage Shoup during the first quarter Tuesday at Bulldog Pit. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

The Bulldog basketball team’s 66-34 loss to Carlsbad Tuesday at Bulldog Pit was certainly not the result of a lack of effort.

The Artesia boys came out strong against the Cavemen before a healthy home crowd and – despite a low-scoring opening quarter – were down by just five points going into the second, 14-9.

But a combination of turnovers and missed shots quickly began to add up for the ‘Dogs. Carlsbad capitalized on virtually every mistake with easy looks inside and dominated the perimeter on the night.

Despite the loss, however, head coach Michael Mondragon was happy with his team’s tenaciousness.

“I know the score didn’t show it, but we got better last night,” Mondragon said today. “I’m really pleased with the effort the boys came out with. They’re playing extremely hard right now.

“Carlsbad’s a good basketball team, and against a team like that, you have to make sure you take care of the ball and all aspects of the game have to be executed. And we didn’t do a good job of that at times, but overall, the defense is there, the offense is taking some good shots, and we turned them over a little, which was nice to see. They made us better, and that’s the most important thing.”

With back-to-back treys by Micah Calderon early in the first, the Cavemen jumped out to a quick 8-1 advantage midway through the first Tuesday, but a Justin Houghtaling three-pointer and a Carlos Carrasco layup off the steal helped keep the ‘Dogs within four, 11-7, with just over a minute to go.

One from the stripe by Brenden Boatwright and a Daniel Miller transition layup made it 14-7 Carlsbad, but Taylor Null hit two from the line to keep Artesia’s deficit at five, 14-9, heading into the second.

Caleb Brewer opened with a shot off the glass to make it 14-11, but the Cavemen would take advantage of a rash of Bulldog turnovers to launch a 13-2 run that stretched to the final three minutes of the half.

A pair of late buckets by Joe Willingham could only keep the halftime gap under 20, 36-17, as Carlsbad’s Jordan Wright closed out the quarter with a pair of three’s and a layup.

A dominant start to the third was a must for the Bulldogs, but they got just the opposite, as the Cavemen racked up 14 unanswered to swiftly bump their lead to 33, 50-17.

Offensive putbacks by Alan Cosio, Null and Carrasco cut the deficit back to 30, but with a trey by Malachi Calderon and a Chris Johnson bucket, Carlsbad was able to start the mercy-rule clock with a minute to go in the third, 58-23.

As such, the first three minutes of the fourth quarter ticked rapidly away, but a Tanner Harris layup and a Carrasco shot from beyond the arc put the clock out of effect for the final five minutes of play. The ‘Dogs had their best offensive showing of the game in the fourth, with Carrasco and Justin Houghtaling closing out the contest with layups, but the damage had been done.

Carrasco led the Bulldogs with 11 points on the night, followed by Houghtaling – who was forced to sit out much of the second and third quarters with foul trouble – with seven.

Micah Calderon led all scorers with 15 for the Cavemen, while Boatwright and Johnson each added 12.

The ‘Dogs shot 26 percent from the field on the game to Carlsbad’s 42.

With the loss, Artesia drops to 5-7 on the year, but they’ll have a chance to get back to .500 this weekend as they travel north to take on Los Alamos and Moriarty. The Bulldogs will tip off against the Hilltoppers at 7 p.m. Friday and will square off with Moriarty at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

“It’s a big weekend for us just because it’s our next two games,” Mondragon said. “We have to have a great week in practice starting today, handle the trip, and just go up and worry about us, about taking care of the ball and being fundamentally sound.

“That’s the thing that’s hurting us right now – we’re just not fundamental for 32 minutes. We’ll play really good for a four- or five-minute stretch and then look really bad for four or five minutes. We have to work on our consistency, executing on offense, and playing great team defense, and we’ll be fine.”

The Bulldogs will return to Bulldog Pit Monday, Jan. 18, for an add-in game against Los Alamos at 7 p.m. before heading to Carlsbad Jan. 22 for a rematch with the Cavemen.

“We just want to thank all the people who came out last night,” said Mondragon. “It was a great crowd for us, and it’s too bad we didn’t come out with a win, but the boys are playing hard, getting better, and I really feel like if we keep heading the direction we’re heading, we’ll be there come district time.