Storm return to form, blast Capital, 83-69
RIO RANCHO — The real Rio Rancho Cleveland Storm showed up again Saturday.
Cleveland coach Sean Jimenez hopes they stick around for a while — like through mid-March.
Cleveland ended 2018 with a 10-0 record and a building consensus around the state that it was the team to beat in Class 5A.
A 63-62 loss to Santa Fe High on Thursday put a dent in those expectations. The Storm weathered the first test of their resolve this season by rebounding to beat the Capital Jaguars, 83-69, at home in an impressive display.
Cleveland (11-1) missed just eight of 30 shots in the second half, and all but one of its 22 makes came from inside of 5 feet. Its combination of size, length and athleticism left Capital (9-3) confounded at times at trying to stop the parade of layups, putbacks and dunks the Storm feasted upon to pad a 33-31 halftime lead.
Jimenez said he saw a different team that seemed lethargic and at times disinterested against the Demon from the outset.
“The difference tonight was in the way we came out and played,” he said. “We weren’t in a 15-2 hole [like the Storm were against Santa Fe High on Thursday]. We were down 8-5, but our energy and effort were there. So, I knew at the end of the day, it was going to be a good game for us.”
That was certainly true of the third quarter as Cleveland hit 10 of its first 14 shots. The Storm build a 55-46 lead on a pair of free throws from Aamer Muhammad at the 2:14 mark. While all of the shots came from inside the paint, they came in quite a variety — mainly from Jalen Munn. The 6-foot-3 guard, who finished with a team-high 21 points, had a tip-in 14 seconds into the quarter, a dunk on a breakaway and an alley-oop layup.
Capital tried to keep up and were only down 45-44 when T.J. Sanchez hit a 3-pointer from the left wing with 4:22 left.
The Storm’s defense kept forcing the Jaguars further away from the basket. They missed six of seven shots late in the third quarter as Cleveland went on a 14-2 run to build a 59-46 lead on Naqki Smith’s drive from the wing with 1:04 left.
“We didn’t do a good job, especially at the end of the third quarter,” Capital head coach Ben Gomez said. “We didn’t play smart and we allowed them to turn us over. We didn’t make good decisions and they killed us in the paint.”
Not even a closing 6-0 run to end the quarter and cut the margin to 61-54 could stem the tide. The Storm scored the first six points of the fourth that included a putback dunk by Munn at the 6-minute mark for a 65-54 edge.
“That’s one of our big keys, we lead the state in transition offense —if everybody would put their stats up,” Jimenez said. “If you don’t get stops and are taking the ball from out of the net [after a made basket], it’s very hard to push the ball.”
While Capital showed it could play with the Storm for most of the game, the periods where it didn’t take care of the ball (16 turnovers in all) and didn’t attack the basket made a big difference.
“We wanted to stay focused the whole game, but we saw them come out tall and strong,” junior forward Seth Arroyos said. “We were thinking a lot about them. Honestly, I was.”
Jimenez hopes it’s the start of trend that could lead to a state title for the Storm.