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November 23, 2014

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Palo Verde escapes in memorable showdown with Durango

Eris Winder stars with 29 points, which included 13 in the fourth quarter

Image

Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Palo Verde basketball players Bronston Abad, Eris Winder, Nathan Grimes and Nahjee Matlock.

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Las Vegas Sun sports reporters Ray Brewer and Case Keefer discuss their way through the Sunrise and Sunset playoff brackets. They disagree on the early rounds, but come to a consensus on who will advance to the state championship.

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If someone made a movie poster about Tuesday night’s game between Palo Verde and Durango, the tag line would have to say something like “exhilarating suspense.”

The Panthers and the Trailblazers provided edge-of-your-seat excitement in the Sunset Region quarterfinals with a contest featuring a furious pace and a dramatic four lead changes in the final two minutes and 30 seconds.

In the end, Palo Verde held on for a 79-75 victory.

“It was fun but scary at the same time,” said Palo Verde coach Jermone Riley. “We had an early lead, then they got hot in the second half. We had to make some adjustments and play the defense that we’re accustomed to.”

The defense Riley speaks of manifested itself most notably in the first quarter. The Panthers roared out to a 16-4 lead and made it difficult for the Trailblazers to run any offensive sets.

They kept that lead all the way until the final minute of the third quarter when Durango’s Antonyo Robinson, who finished with 19 points, hit two 3-pointers from the corner.

Durango stole all of the momentum and had a 52-49 advantage heading to the fourth quarter. But Palo Verde calmly walked back to the huddle, not looking the least bit flustered.

“In practice, we go against each other hard,” said Palo Verde sophomore guard Eris Winder. “So when we get into one of those kinds of situations, we come together and perform well.”

Durango scored the first bucket of the final quarter, but Palo Verde went on an 11-2 run after that to regain the lead at 63-58.

Winder scored nine of those 11 points and was the player the Panthers seemed to lean on in the majority of their pressure moments. He had 29 points on the night.

“He’s not young anymore and I told him that last year,” Riley said. “You have your freshman jitters but after that, you’re just a varsity player.”

Madness ensued after Winder’s initial fourth-quarter breakout. Durango knocked down three 3-pointers — two of them again by Robinson — in a minute to regain the lead.

Sensing the Panthers needed a spark, Jordyn Martin scored five points in a 30-second stretch to give his team a 70-69 advantage. Martin finished with 13 points and 11 rebounds.

“He’s one of the quiet leaders on our team,” Winder said. “He helps us every day and gets everybody on the team better.”

The scoreboard switched back in Durango’s favor twice more before Winder hit a short jumper with a little more than a minute remaining to give Palo Verde a 74-73 edge. Durango never caught up after that.

Palo Verde junior Nahjee Matlock, who had 19 points on the night, forced a turnover with less than 30 seconds left on the clock and converted two critical free throws.

Winder found himself on the line with nine seconds remaining and sank both free throws to assure the Panthers a four-point victory.

“I like the clutch,” Winder said. “I like having the ball in my hands, because I know I can knock down free throws and help our team win the game.”

Winder tossed the ball so high it ricocheted off the ceiling when the final second ticked off the clock. Palo Verde had survived a thriller.

Case Keefer can be reached at 948-2790 or [email protected]. Follow Case on Twitter at twitter.com/casekeefer.

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