It was the opportunity that Portales senior Andrew Villanueva was looking for.
With his team down by one point with 10 seconds left in overtime, Villanueva zipped through a seam in the Muleshoe defense for a layup that pushed Portales past the Mules 59-58.
“When everybody cleared out I knew it was the one I wanted,” Villanueva said. “When that guy turned his back on me I got a big cheeser (smile) on my face.”
After leading Muleshoe by as many as 15 points, cold shooting from the free-throw line and a surging Mules offense put the Rams (4-1) on their heels and eroded the Portales lead in the fourth period. Muleshoe’s Nick Hurtado finally hit a trey from the corner with four seconds left to send the contest into overtime tied at 52.
Muleshoe (7-4) held a one-point lead only briefly during the overtime period when with senior Tyson Turnbow found the back door for an easy bucket to make it 58-57 Mules 33 seconds left.
The Rams weren’t happy with their letdown but they knew they’d passed a big test.
“We were kinda disappointed that we didn’t play too well in the third and fourth quarter, but we battled all the way to the end,” said Ram senior Stephen Shields, who led Portales with 20 points. “This is really one of the first times our team’s really been tested. Our team showed the heart we have, we never really gave up.”
Rams coach Mark Gallegos said one of the big problems for his team showed up on the stat sheet with 15 of 19 free-throw shooting in the first half that dropped to 4 of 10 in the second half.
“We did some things real uncharacteristic for us tonight,” Gallegos said, noting the free throws and the eventual failure of his team’s press. “I think we might have been a little tired. We needed to learn to win a game like that though.”
Muleshoe coach Matt Mason said he knew what his team would be in for at the Ram Athletic Center and thought his team handled things well.
“I was impressed with how we handled the hostile environment,” Mason said. “We handled pressure from a very tough Portales team.”
Turnbow led all scorers with 27 on the night including three treys. Hurtado joined him in double figures with 12 points, all from 3-pointers.
The Rams are off until after Christmas when they’ll travel to the Stu Clark Tournament in Las Vegas. They’re matched in the first round against Robertson at 6 p.m. Dec. 28.