ALBUQUERQUE—A big second half from Jalin Holland and clutch shooting by Ezra Guest Wednesday carried Los Lunas past La Cueva 46-45 and into the semifinals of the 5A Boys State Basketball Championships at the Pit in Albuquerque.
The third-seeded Tigers survived a first half that featured poor shooting and Holland, the all-state guard, on the bench for most of the time with two fouls.
Neither squad did much offensively in the first half. Senior guard Geleio Griego gave the Tigers a spark when he made three free throws at the end of the first quarter to tie the game at 9-9.
Holland sat out almost the entire second quarter but 11th seeded La Cueva couldn’t take advantage, connecting on only four of nine free throws for the half. Holland returned for the final possession and scored his only points of the half to pull Los Lunas to within 17-14.
The Tigers shot just 4-21 from the field in the first half, while the Bears were 5 for 18.
“It was a grinder, for sure,” is how LLHS head coach Travis Julian described it. “We had open shots. The kids just needed to relax.”
The second half was a much different story, with both teams more successful offensively. That was especially true for Holland who quickly opened the scoring with a two-pointer and followed that up with the first of his four three-pointers.
That gave the Tigers their first lead since the opening moments of the game, 23-21.
The teams exchanged the lead the rest of the way with the score tied at 30-30 after three quarters. Baskets by Rex Kinsey, Guest and a trey by Holland gave LLHS a 41-36 lead with less than four minutes to go. Holland finished with 21 points, 19 in the second half.
“Nobody was going to stop him in the second half,” Julian said.
The Bears would claw back to regain the advantage, but Guest would pull Los Lunas to within one point on a driving layup. After regaining possession, Julian called a time out down by one to set up a play for Holland.
However, Holland suggested that if La Cueva was in a certain defense that the ball go to Guest instead.
Julian looked at Guest and said, “Are you good with that? ‘Yes sir.’ That was a great call by Jalin.”
Guest, who was called “unbelievable” and “clutch” by Julian, took the pass and drove to the edge of the lane where he nailed a fadeaway 13-footer with 15 seconds left for a 46-45 lead.
A last-second desperation effort by La Cueva was no good, and Los Lunas advances to play the winner of the Cleveland-Sandia game at 4:45 p.m., Thursday, March 9, at the Pit.
Win over Las Cruces
Geleio Griego may not have been the first choice, but he was the right choice.
The Los Lunas senior guard slid past a defender into the lane and knocked down a fade-away 12-foot jump shot at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 45-43 victory over Las Cruces Saturday in the first round of the 5A Boys Basketball State Championship.
“It’s cool. We’re going to the Pit,” said Griego, who finished with six points.
The Tigers made their first five shots, including a three-pointer and a dunk by Jalin Holland, to put Los Lunas up 11-3.
Holland had 19 points.
Twice LLHS built a nine-point lead against Las Cruces, which the Tigers easily defeated earlier in the season. However, the smaller Bulldawgs ran a very efficient offense, hit six treys in the first half and only trailed 28-26 at the break.
“They can get very methodical. They wear you down,” said LLHS coach Travis Julian.
To a chorus of “boos” from the partisan crowd, Las Cruces continued a delay game, holding the ball for a much as two minutes at a time. The Tigers countered with a trapping defense.
“I woke up Monday morning with the idea that they might hold the ball on us,” Julian said. “Thank God we worked on that stuff.”
Ezra Guest, who had 14 points for Los Lunas, knocked down a three-pointer midway through the fourth quarter and added two free throws to tie the game at 43-43 with less than three minutes to go.
After the teams exchanged turnovers in the final few minutes, the Tigers had the ball under their own basket with 4.2 seconds to go and the score still tied.
During a timeout, Julian designed a play with Holland as the first option, Guest and Griego secondary choices. Griego ended up with the ball on the wing.
The play “kind of just worked out the way it did,” Griego said. “I saw a lane and I took it, took the pull-up jumper. I was just thinking I was going to make it.”
And it was nothing but net.
“I did it for my team. I did it for my family. I did it for this town.”
“I’m so happy that they get to go down the (Pit) ramp,” Julian said. “That’s just an opportunity that every New Mexico high school kid who plays basketball wants to have.”
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.