By Ed Nuñez
Las Cruces boys head basketball coach William Benjamin is no stranger to great starts — and his Bulldawgs are off to another.
The Dawgs, who won their first 27 games last year before losing to Hobbs in the district tournament title game, are 12-0 this year after beating El Paso Coronado 68-65 to win the Holiday Hoolpa tournament — which was Benjamin’s 200th career win in his 10 years as school’s coach.
Benjamin, however, knows that fast starts and big finishes are different deals. Last year, the Bulldogs came into the 2018 state tournament as the No. 2 seed, despite the 27-1 record.
They ended up losing 50-46 in double overtime to third-seeded Atrisco Heritage in the state semifinals.
“Our seeding hurt us last year, it was the luck of the draw, we had to play Atrisco Heritage (lost in double overtime) but that is just the way it is sometimes,” said Benjamin.
“We’ve had good starts to the season the last two, but we have to finish with a blue trophy” said Benjamin.
Benjamin’s Bulldawgs won it all in 2013.
Benjamin felt his Dawgs got short-changed in the seeding, and should haven had the No. 1 spot instead of Eldorado (23-2 entering the event).
Even if they would have had the No. 1 seed, however, they would still have likely had to beat Atrisco for the title. Fifth-seeded Cleveland upset top-seeded Eldorado 70-68 in the semifinals before losing to Atrisco 53-49 in the championship game.
Interestingly, while Cleveland finished one step better than Las Cruces last year — getting to the title — it is the only team rated one step ahead of the Bulldawgs so far this year. The Storm are the only other unbeaten 5A team (Class 6 is now Class 5 in boys basketball).
The polls (below) came out before the holiday season, and there have been some games since.
The Bulldawgs have been beating opponents by about 20 points a game while giving up most scores in the mid-40s. Benjamin, the former New Mexico State Aggie, played under Neil McCarthy and uses all of his defensive philosophy. “Neil was not an offensive coach, he sold us on defense and that is what will take us (Las Cruces) where we want to go” said Benjamin. “Offensively, we have been running the flex offense and trying to get as many easy baskets as we can.
“My philosophy is that (on offense) it is like Thanksgiving, not everyone can bring turkey, but can bring something to contribute to our overall success. “Back in the day (while playing at NMSU), I played with guys like Randy Brown and Reggie Jordan, players who believed in holding themselves accountable, so they were definitely going to hold you accountable, as well. We try to follow that here at Las Cruces,” said Benjamin.
“Sometimes as coaches, we feel that the game has changed and it has, but are you really going to tell me that players today are better than they were in years past? We can overthink things sometimes. I don’t need to study hours and hours of film to see that a kid is scoring the ball and we need to get it to him.”
Benjamin’s son, freshman William “Deuce” Benjamin, who wears number 21 as his father did at NMSU, has made quick contributions for these Bulldawgs.
“Coaching my son has been easy, he has put a lot of time in the gym and worked hard on his skill set” said Benjamin. “Since August, he has done a great job and been mentored by the upper class-men in our program.
“It also helps that since 2012, he has been sitting on our bench and coaches recognize him from seeing him there.”
Deuce averages 11 points per game and is “shooting 3’s at a high clip” said William. “Defensively, we are solid, Shea Hernandez and Marcus Bush apply pressure out front. I like the way we have started, but Cleveland is consistent, Volcano Vista is good, Eldorado is right there, Santa Fe as well.
“It is wide open, but we have to focus on ourselves first,” said Benjamin.
Ed Nuñez is a play-by-play announcer for ProView Networks and a staff writer with Enchantment Sports. If you have information, tips or questions for Ed, please send to EnchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.