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Joe Willingham sails past Goddard’s Derek Carrica for a dunk during the first quarter Friday in Roswell. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

If ever a quarter of basketball clearly defined the tenets of Murphy’s Law, the third period Friday between Artesia and Goddard at Ground Zero is the one.

It was a period literally teeming with what-ifs. In a nutshell, it was a period that saw the Bulldogs score just a single basket; just one more would have changed the outcome of the game.

As it was, Taylor Null’s offensive putback near the start of the second half was it. From there, a bevy of missed shots – many taken from beyond the arc – put the Artesia offense in a funk that would unfortunately continue into the fourth.

To be sure, the Rockets didn’t perform much better.

Goddard got a pair in the paint from eventual high-point Derek Carrica and two from the free-throw line from Jonathan Carrillo in the third, but it was enough to turn their eight-point halftime deficit into a four-pointer going into the final minutes.

There, it looked in the early goings as if Artesia might be able to shake it off and overcome.
Carrica kicked off the fourth with another basket underneath, but Tyler Greenwood answered with a drive to the hoop and a three, which, combined with a Chaney Hardt layup a few moments later, made it an eight-point game, 36-28.

With around five minutes of basketball remaining, few would have guessed Artesia would get just two more looks at the basket and a single trip to the stripe. But that’s the way it played out.

A Tommy Madrid jumper was followed by a Bulldog turnover, and the Rockets got three opportunities in a single trip, with Madrid finally converting again to make it 36-32 with four minutes left.

Another Artesia turnover was followed by a trip to the line by Jonah Chavez, but he missed the front end of the one-and-one. The ‘Dogs would again fall down on the boards, however, giving Chavez another shot from the field that, once missed, became yet another offensive board and putback for Carrica.

36-34.

A miss on the Bulldogs’ end was followed by an improbable falling shot by Hunter Beene that tied the game at 36-all, and the ‘Dogs’ fourth turnover of the quarter ultimately sent Carrica to the stripe, where he converted both to give Goddard its first lead of the night with 25 seconds to go.

Artesia still couldn’t hit from the field, however, and by the time Joe Willingham was fouled, only two seconds remained in the game. With the noise chamber that is the Rockets’ cinder-block gym bearing down on him, the senior missed the first. An intentional miss to offer a putback chance wasn’t on tap, and despite a make on the second shot and an instant foul on the inbound, the Bulldogs were left with one second to work with on Goddard’s end of the court.

Chavez obliged by again missing the front end of the one-and-one, but all the ‘Dogs could do was try to dump the ball into the hands of Null for a full-court attempt. They couldn’t get a handle on it, and time expired on the 38-37 loss.

“We just didn’t play very good, and that’s the bottom line,” head coach Michael Mondragon said Saturday. “Two things we’ve done a good job of all year long are guard and rebound, and we didn’t do either one last night.

“The first quarter I thought was great, we came out and did some good things. The second quarter, we missed some easy shots but it was a good first half overall. But then the second half, to only score 10 points in a whole half… that’s just not characteristic at all, and it’s something we can’t do. And we know that. Sometimes it happens, though.”

The boys in orange got off to an enthusiastic start Friday against the Rockets, with Null hitting from beyond the arc to open the first quarter, followed by buckets by Hardt and Kale Mauritsen, and a breakaway dunk off the steal by Willingham.

A Clay Houghtaling three and shots off the glass by Luke Nelson and Mauritsen made it 17-9 Artesia going into the second.

Five turnovers in the quarter slightly limited the ‘Dogs’ opportunities, but with a Hardt three and baskets inside by Willingham, Greenwood and Anthony Armendariz, Artesia did enough to stay in front.

In a twist, Chavez posted what could be seen as the game-winner for Goddard as the halftime buzzer sounded: a half-court fling that, as they occasionally do, went in. That made what would have been a 27-16 intermission tally 27-19 instead.

“Like we told the guys after the game, this is 5A district basketball,” Mondragon said. “You’ve gotta come ready to play every night, and if you don’t, you’re going to get beat.

“Now we just have to keep getting better and understand that we’re nowhere near where we need to be. Sometimes you have to get humbled to help you get there, and I think last night was one of those moments. These guys realize now they can’t take anything for granted. They’ve got to work every day if they want to be a district champion and a state champion.”

Greenwood led the ‘Dogs on the contest with nine points, followed by Hardt with seven and Willingham with six. Carrica had 16 for Goddard.

The Bulldogs (15-7, 2-1) will now have a week to prepare for their final district road outing Friday against Lovington. Artesia edged the Wildcats 40-39 in their first meeting Jan. 26.

“We didn’t do a very good job of taking care of the ball against them last time,” Mondragon said. “We had way too many turnovers, so we’re going to work on that, work on handling their pressure, and then just continue to work on the fundamental things: defensive rotation, guarding, rebounding, and ball handling.

“We know we’re a good basketball team, and I have confidence in these guys. We just didn’t play very well last night, and sometimes that happens. We really want to thank the community again. We had a great crowd last night, and what happened wasn’t because these guys aren’t working hard. They’re giving a great effort, we’re 2-1 in district, sitting in first, and now we have to start all over again. These guys are up to the challenge, and they’re ready to get back to work this week.”