Chieftains go 13-for-15 from the free-throw line in the final quarter

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SHIPROCK — The Navajo Prep boys basketball team held a slim lead over Shiprock for over three quarters tonight, but couldn't overcome the team speed and active defense of the Chieftains for 32 full minutes.

The Chiefs (8-11, 1-0) kicked off District 1-4A play with a 50-41 win over Prep, but it didn't come easy. Shiprock only sank one 3-pointer and had a hard time getting into an offensive rhythm, so they trailed from the opening minutes of the contest until the seven-minute mark of the fourth quarter.

Shiprock relied on its defense, which forced an inexperienced Eagles (12-6, 0-1) squad — Prep starts two freshmen and a sophomore — to turn the ball over and commit panicky fouls at key moments of the fourth quarter. Shiprock's 20-of-25 clip from the free-throw line was instrumental in the win, as well.

"Attack the hoop — that was one of the things we focused on," Shiprock coach Chester Atcitty said. "Keep attacking that hoop, keep working. I think putting a lot of emphasis on defense does take its toll offensively. We get our looks, get opportunities and we're just not converting out there. But hopefully, in time, we'll be able to get it all clicking."

The Eagles played disciplined defense and received points from seven different players in the first half. But things started to break down for the visitors after halftime.

Starting guard Lance Morris was limited by foul trouble in the second half, while fellow starter Tyler Pete, who was slowly working his way back from a knee injury, hurt his shoulder in the third quarter and logged only a few minutes after that.

And after making 13 trips to the free-throw line in the first half and hitting nine of those shots, Prep couldn't get a whistle to go its way after halftime, going just two-for-two.

Once Shiprock snagged a 41-39 lead just past the midway mark of the fourth, Atcitty deployed a clock-killing strategy that Prep couldn't stop.

"At 41-39 I tried to convince them, 'Just sit back and play, they can't hold it for four minutes,'" Eagles coach Rick Hoerner said. "We panicked, fouled twice, and then gave up a layup. And that 2 (points) goes to 6 or 8 real quick, and now we're really panicking."

Shiprock senior Marlyn Kaskella was huge for his team down the stretch with a seven-for-eight mark from the charity stripe in the fourth. On the rare occasions where Prep managed to possess the ball after a Chieftains free-throw trip, the Eagles coughed the ball up while rushing it up court, or succumbed to aggressive defense and turned it over.

Shiprock's Arvin Begay led all scorers with 11 points. Kaskella chipped in 9.

Dylan Begay paced the Eagles with 10 points.

Next up for Shiprock is a nondistrict game at Moriarty (9-11) on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Eagles are off until Feb. 2, when Thoreau (7-12, 0-0) pays a visit to the Eagles Nest.

Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577. 

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