FARMINGTON — After dominating the first half, Farmington High had to survive a valiant comeback attempt from Shiprock to escape with a win.
Alex Whiteley scored 16 of his team-high 24 points in the second half to lead FHS to a 68-59 victory against the Chieftains on Tuesday night at Scorpion Gym.
"We really wanted to attack their guards and get them into foul trouble," said Whiteley, who finished 8-of-9 from the field and 8-of-9 from the free-throw line for the Scorps.
Shiprock entered the contest shorthanded and banged up as Hiram Gleason sat out with an undisclosed injury, while Justin Begay wore a protective mask after colliding heads with a teammate in practice.
The Chieftains (11-8) took an early 10-9 lead after the first quarter, but the Scorpions (10-10) exploded in the second with a 22-2 run to open a 34-17 advantage going into halftime, capped by a Victor Lopez 3-pointer from about 30 feet at the buzzer.
Without Gleason, Shiprock struggled in the second quarter offensively against the tough Scorps defense. The Chieftains hit just 1-of-11 from the field and turned it over six times over the eight-minute stretch.
"They were just able to keep us out of rhythm," Shiprock head coach Chester H. Atcitty Jr. said.
The Scorps came out in the third quarter and pushed the lead to 23 points before Begay caught fire.
The Shiprock senior ditched the mask at halftime and scored 20 of his 26 points during a six-minute stretch late in the third and early in the fourth quarter, trimming the Scorps' lead to four points, before fouling out with 5:45 remaining in the game.
Whiteley attacked the basket to draw the Chieftain guard's fifth foul.
"We told them during the timeout that Justin had four fouls and to attack him if they got the chance," FHS head coach Paul Corley said. "Justin is a great player and a great shooter, and he was raining 3s on us.
With Begay out, Shiprock was unable to complete the comeback, and the Scorps closed out the victory.
"It was a big play. He was dropping 3s, and we needed to stop that," Whiteley said.
Max Piñon hit 7-of-10 from the field and finished with 17 points for the Scorps.
Deron Johnson added 12 points for Shiprock.
The win gets the FHS record back to .500 heading into the District 1-4A after starting the season 1-8.
"I think we're ready for the district play, but it's going to be tough," Corley said. "The kids are looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a fun time.
The Scorps open district play on Friday when they host Kirtland Central.
The two schools met on Dec. 14 during the Marv Sanders Invitational and KCHS emerged victorious 53-48. But seven players missed portions of that contest while taking the ACT.
"We're both different teams," Corley said. "It should be a good matchup and coach (John) Zecca will have his kids ready."
Shiprock will also open the district schedule with a home game against Thoreau on Friday, and Atcitty expects the Chieftains to be at full strength for the matchup.
"We'll put this loss behind us and be ready to go," Atcitty said. "These kids live to play basketball."