RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Rio Rancho High School boys basketball coach Wally Salata isn’t one to point fingers at anyone for shortcomings following a loss, but if one were to point a finger, it’d be at the Rams missing their first six shots from the floor in the fourth quarter Tuesday evening in their 74-70 loss to No. 3 Santa Fe in the RAC.
The contest was of the back-and-forth variety, with runs playing roles as the teams traded the lead five times and were tied five times — lastly at 56, which came with 15 seconds left to go in the third period.
With an enthusiastic crowd on hand for the Rams’ home opener, Christian Lucero’s layup with 3.4 seconds on the clock gave the Rams (2-2) a 58-56 lead heading into the final period.
An 8-2 run by the Demons (4-0) — the Rams’ two points came from a pair of free throws by J.T. Gallegos during the 0-for-6 field goal demise — gave Santa Fe the lead for good.
The Rams’ last gasp came with 1:12 to go, when Lucero, who led the Rams with 19 points, nailed a 10-footer to make it a 71-70 contest.
Salata called a timeout with 56.1 seconds remaining, before the Demons’ Jordan Campos went to the foul line. He made one of his two free throws, as did the next two Demons sent to the line, and the Rams were unable to score in the time that remained, although Vance Rudolph, who drained four 3-pointers, barely missed canning a would-be game-tying trey with 12.4 seconds to go.
The Rams turned the ball over with 5.4 seconds left, and the last time they had the ball, needed a 3-pointer and a foul called on the shot to tie it.
It didn’t happen.
Junior Hodnett scored 16 points for the Rams and Rudolph’s four 3s gave him a dozen points.
Lobo commit J.B. White, a junior, had a game-high 23 for the Demons, with five “nothing-but-net” 3s; UNM men’s basketball coach Paul Weir was in attendance to see his future player.
“We haven’t been together very long, so I’m not going to use that as an excuse (publicly), but I’m going to (in the locker room),” Salata said, “because, there at the end, we had a play set up and (what we did) wasn’t what we want — we don’t dribble down the sideline (and that led to the final turnover of 13 for the game).
“I thought overall, we won the first, but we lost the last three quarters; that’s probably my first thing. Secondly, I thought they shot too many free throws in the second half (16 for 21); I mean, they killed us from the free-throw line. They didn’t have to work hard to get shots.
“We’re a ways away. I’m not complaining — I thought our rotations were OK. We got into foul trouble early, so we had to scrap the rotation a little bit.
“It was an exciting game,” Salata added. “They’re coming to our tournament in three weeks, so there’s the possibility we’ll see them again.”
Salata has a lot of respect for the Demons, who got to the 5A championship game in The Pit last March, when they lost the title tilt to Atrisco Heritage Academy. The Rams were the only team to defeat both finalists last season.
“We have a break, which now we can review some things. We had some guys I had to take out because they didn’t know the plays, there at the end, those last-second plays,” Salata said. “Again, we had an opportunity and we just didn’t execute there at the end.”
Rams dunks: Chavez and Lucero were named to the all-tournament team after the Rams finished third at the City of Champions Tournament last weekend in Artesia.
… The Rams had nine days off to prepare for their next game, which is Friday at Highland High at 7, followed by a game at Clovis on the 21st.