Eagles head to Portales for state tournament opener

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FARMINGTON — The Navajo Prep boys basketball team has a chip on its shoulder.

The Eagles are 18-10 entering Saturday’s 4A state playoff opener at sixth-seeded Portales, tied for the fourth-highest win total in 4A. But they’re convinced their weak schedule ultimately resulted in them having to travel 410 miles southeast as the No. 11 seed.

“The teams we played weren’t that much of a competition,” sophomore guard Lance Morris said. “Teams don’t really expect much out of us.”

Prep's only quality wins were against 3A Newcomb and Rehoboth Christian, and the District 1-4A tournament championship game over Shiprock, while 10 of its wins were against teams that won nine games or fewer.

The Eagles, whose key group includes five sophomores, now look to prove their 18-win campaign isn’t just because of their schedule.

“Numbers don’t lie. MaxPreps has us with the weakest schedule in 4A,” coach Rick Hoerner said. “You always want to prove (others) wrong, that the record’s legitimate.”

One major thing Prep has going for itself is its speedy offense, especially in attacking the rim. NPS often builds momentum with the fast break, hitting quick jumpers and getting quick points on penetration.

“We’re just trying to get to the bucket and score easy points,” Morris said.

Portales (16-12) uses five defensive schemes designed to get its athletic, lengthy and taller defenders more involved all across the floor.

Prep hopes to combat that by creating more space for its shooters using the dribble-drive motion offense and other related setups.

Hoerner said he’d like to see his shooters move around the floor more consistently to get quick shots off.

“My hope is that we keep (Portales) moving, that we force their bigs to have to help out on our quicker guards,” Hoerner said.

Senior forward Tyler Pete said Prep’s offense has the speed to apply constant pressure while attacking the basket in half-court situations.

And whenever Portales’ defenders close in on Prep, Pete said the Eagles must push the ball forward and be ready to attack off of quick offensive rebounds.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.

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