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NMMI falls short in comeback bid

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NMMI’s Daniel Xibille attempts a layup during the first half of a Class 3A quarterfinal game against Hot Springs on Wednesday evening at the Santa Ana Star Center in Rio Rancho. Hot Springs won, 54-47. (NMMI Sports Press)

RIO RANCHO — Entering the Class 3A quarterfinals for the first time since 2007, the New Mexico Military Institute Colt basketball team had a big task at hand, taking on No. 2-seeded Hot Springs.

The Colts had previously met the Tigers back on Dec. 6 during a tournament in Truth or Consequences. NMMI fell short, 50-48.

This time around, NMMI couldn’t get the revenge it had hoped for as its season came to an end with a 54-47 loss to the Tigers on Wednesday evening at the Santa Ana Star Center.

Hot Springs (26-3) advances to the semifinals to take on Bosque on Friday.

NMMI, the No. 11 seed, outscored the Tigers, 31-28, in the second half, but there just wasn’t enough time to stage a comeback.

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“We probably outscored them in the second half,” said NMMI head coach Connor Williamson. “I think it was just the difference of experience. The experience is what let them come out like that.

“We were just a little bit tight, a little bit scared. It’s hard not to be.”

Hot Springs started the game on a 12-0 run. It took the Colts nearly six minutes to get on the board.

Down 19-7 to end the first quarter, NMMI cut the deficit down to seven points with a shot in the paint from Daniel Xibille with 4:56 on the clock.

The Tigers then got a three-pointer from Verrels Lukman to extend the lead to 12 points with 2:15 remaining until halftime.

NMMI was plagued by nine turnovers in the first half as Hot Springs created 12 points off the miscues. On offense, the Colts struggled shooting 5 of 18 (28%) from the field.

Xibille knocked down a three-pointer to start the second half and then Hot Springs answered right back with a three of its own from Coltin Whitehead.

The Colts then cut the deficit to eight when Ricardo Mata made a two-pointer with 5:37 left.

Trailing by 11 points entering the final quarter, NMMI kept on fighting. Xibille landed another three-pointer to make the score 38-30.

NMMI’s Andres Bleizeffer got fouled after making a layup and he was sent to the line making a free throw to chisel down the deficit to five points with 6:53 remaining in the contest.

At that point, it was a race against time for the Colts as they fouled in desperation to slow down the clock. The Tigers landed their free throws to break away with the win.

Xibille led the Colts and all scorers with 21 points while Mata chipped in with 19 points, four rebounds and four steals.

Bleizeffer grabbed a team-high five boards. NMMI shot 15 for 43 from the field and 11 of 16 from the charity stripe.

“(We) just left it all out on the court, played our defense, offense – everything,” Xibille said. “Just trying to help my teammates and everything. We got to be ready for next season.”

Hot Springs scored 17 points off NMMI’s 15 turnovers.

Lukman paced the Tigers with 20 points and Whitehead added with 13. James Childress tallied 11 points and grabbed seven rebounds.

Hot Springs matched NMMI from beyond the arc making six three-pointers. The Tigers shot 47% from the field.

The Colts finished the year 15-9. Although the end result wasn’t what they expected, the team is hungry to get back to the postseason next season and get past the second round.

“It’s not hard to want more, obviously. These guys wanted more, that’s for sure,” said Williamson. “I know I did, too. Before this game, I could imagine how wonderful it would’ve felt to win, but it just wasn’t meant to happen this year.

“We did make it a step further than last year. Hopefully, we just keep going in that direction.”

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