Friday, January 6, 2012

Staying the course key for Eagles as they learn to close out games

Kimberly Ryan/News-Sun
Hobbs' Earl Woods grabs a rebound during a loss
to Seminole on Thursday in Seminole.
  As I walked into the visiting locker room at Seminole High School to interview Hobbs coach Mike Smith on Thursday following Hobbs' second consecutive loss in which it controlled the contest for much of the first three quarters, nothing could be heard except for the sound of bags zipping up and players' feet shuffling out the door.
  No talking, just packing up and getting out of town.
  You couldn't blame them as Hobbs controlled much of the game against Seminole and several times it appeared the Eagles were going to blow the game wide open. But, and give credit to the Indians, Seminole stuck around and outscored Hobbs 20-10 in the final nine minutes of the game (including the final five without Hobbs having leading scorer Aaron Ibarra and sharpshooter Andrew Barrientes – who both fouled out) to beat the Eagles 70-69 at Seminole High School.
  Dane Pannell was the last out of the locker room. The junior had his hood over his head and was as frustrated as I've ever seen him (those who've watched Pannell play know he doesn't show a lot of emotion). Pannell had missed a free throw with 19 seconds left that could've tied the game and lost control the of the ball as Seminole swarmed him in the paint in the final seconds with a chance to give the Eagles the lead.
  But Pannell was far from the reason why the Eagles lost that game. Heck, he was the reason Hobbs was even in the game as he put together the ridiculous stat line of 25 points, 22 rebounds, six assists and three steals with a bad knee. Frankly, it's incredible what he's doing considering he's far from 100 percent.
  Smith knew that and said, "Dane, take your hood off and keep your head up."
  All of the Eagles need to take that advice as learning to win close games isn't easy. The Eagles found that out during the Hobbs Holiday Tournament championship game Dec. 30 when they let a 10-point second-half lead evaporate before losing to Lawton, Okla., 89-83.
  In these close games, Hobbs appears to be tightening up down the stretch and getting away from what it does best – using its pressure, full-court (or even three-quarter and half-court) defense to create turnovers and get easy baskets in transition. The Eagles only forced one Seminole turnover in the fourth quarter and didn't get out on the break. Seminole was getting tired, there was no doubt about that. Hobbs just couldn't put the Indians away.
  Like I said in my last blog about Hobbs hoops (linked here), the Eagles need to gain experience in these sort of games. Those who do have varsity experience are coming off a season where the Eagles very rarely played in these type of games as Hobbs went 12-17 and were one-and-done at state last season.
  It will come. Some of these players are too good to not come up big in situations. Guys like Pannell, Ibarra, Austin Montoya and Andrew Barrientes (whose loss really hurt Thursday as his 3-point shooting kept Seminole from collapsing hard on Pannell when he caught the ball at the top of the key) will come through at one point or another this season.
  On a side note, junior Earl Woods made his debut and gave Hobbs some instant production. While he finished with four points and five rebounds in limited time, his size inside was a help against a bigger Seminole team. Hobbs' pieces are starting to fit together, and like I said before, the Eagles are far from a finished product.
  While the loss stings, the Eagles will have to refocus quickly as they host an important matchup with Rio Rancho 5:30 p.m. Saturday. Games against New Mexico 5A opponents are key when the NMAA selection and seeding committee meets at the end of the season. So far, Hobbs is 2-0 against 5A opponents with wins over Oñate and Volcano Vista.