Aside from the fact that Santa Fe maintained its hold on first place in District 5-5A boys basketball, Thursday night’s 56-49 road win at Manzano illuminated something else for the Demons and head coach Zack Cole:
This team is plenty deep.
Santa Fe’s future Lobo, junior guard J.B. White, was sitting out a one-game suspension. Three other regulars didn’t even board the bus to Albuquerque because they were sick.
And Class 5A’s second-ranked Demons had to contend with foul trouble to two of the key remaining nine who were in uniform.
But through it all, Santa Fe persevered. Sophomore forward P.J. Lovato scored all 16 of his points in the second half, and the Demons grinded their way to this victory.
And even Lovato was scarcely 100 percent. He conducted a postgame interview with a trash can right next to him in a hallway outside Santa Fe’s locker room, he was feeling so poorly Thursday.
“Felt like throwing up,” he said, looking weary. “Real nauseous.”
The 6-foot-2 Lovato had foul trouble himself, picking up two early fouls in the game’s first four minutes, so he was of little use to the Demons (19-3, 7-0 in 5-5A) in the opening half, a half that saw Santa Fe clinging to a precarious 27-24 lead over Manzano (7-14, 2-5).
But Lovato was repeatedly clutch late, with 14 points in the fourth quarter, in a game that was in doubt until about the final 90 seconds. He scored Santa Fe’s final eight.
“P.J. is our glue,” Cole said. “He’s our warrior, both on defense and on offense. He’s all over the place for us. He grabs a lot of rebounds, he contests a lot of shots, he finishes around the basket.”
Santa Fe led by as many as nine (27-18) in the second quarter before Manzano closed the first half on a 6-0 run.
The Monarchs inched in front midway through the third quarter at 32-30, but Santa Fe’s next two possessions resulted in 3-pointers, first from Cody Garcia and then from Elijah Apodaca.
Santa Fe led 38-36 through three quarters, at which point Lovato repeatedly produced. He had 14 of Santa Fe’s 18 points in the final eight minutes.
“First half, I wasn’t helping the way I was playing,” he said. “Coach told me from the beginning to watch what I was doing, and I kind of messed up right away. Second half, I wanted to be able to help them.”
At one point, Lovato also took an inadvertent shot to his face and was sporting a small scratch underneath his left eye after the game.
“He’s in the middle of it,” Cole said. “He always gets banged up, bumped up. But that’s P.J. He’s got the heart of a lion.”
Santa Fe kept its one-game lead over second-place Capital (20-3, 6-1), which won at Sandia on Thursday. Both Santa Fe teams are back in Albuquerque on Saturday night, the Demons at Sandia and Capital at Albuquerque High. Those games were postponed by weather earlier this week.
The Demons have a visit to Capital next Wednesday night.
Jack Kalivoda led Manzano with 13 points.
ALSO THURSDAY: From District 6-4A, top-ranked Valley (15-6, 6-1) went on the road and beat No. 5 Highland, 77-65. Second-ranked Del Norte (13-8, 6-1) kept pace with a 53-45 road win at Bernalillo.
The Vikings and Knights square off Saturday night at Del Norte.