UNM hoops has had its share of misery in that other basketball tournament that takes place each March.
Saturday night in The Basketball Tournament, though not directly affiliated with the NCAA or the University of New Mexico, a roster of past Lobo greats felt that familiar sting.
The Enchantment squandered a 23-point third-quarter lead, losing to the Stillwater Stars, 84-83, in the round of 64 of the $1 million, winner-take-all TBT regional in Charles Koch Arena in Wichita, Kansas.
“We will be back next year,” said Enchantment general manager and assistant coach Brandon Mason, the former UNM assistant who was the driving force over the past year for creating this year’s first-ever Lobo alumni team for the event that has been growing in popularity for the past eight years.
“This TBT is all about experience. We had a great team, just didn’t finish. Learning experience, for sure, for all of us.”
The 23-point comeback for Stillwater matched the TBT record.
For three quarters, the Stillwater Stars, a team composed primarily of Oklahoma State alumni, didn’t appear as though last year’s debut in TBT was helping them at all. Enchantment’s offense picked apart the opposition inside and out, closing the first quarter on a 13-0 run that grew to 15-0 in the second quarter for a 25-17 lead.
The lead was 51-39 by halftime and the team outscored Stillwater 21-10 through the first eight minutes of the third quarter to build up a 72-49 lead powered by young and old — 36-year-old J.R. Giddens (17 points, eight rebounds in the game), 31-year-old Drew Gordon (14 and eight) and 24-year-old Anthony Mathis (16 points).
But then things changed.
The Enchantment seemed content to let the game clock roll and took its collective foot off the pedal while the Stars stepped up the defense and benefited from their suddenly passive opponent.
“I have an AAU program,” said Stillwater coach and national sports analyst Doug Gottlieb. “And the cure all for things when you want to change things (in an AAU game is) go to the old diamond and press.”
With 6-foot-6 guard Michael Qualls at the top of the press, Gottlieb said he believed Enchantment began to look “really tentative against it.”
Enchantment, with head coach Kenny Thomas, said there was no specific decision to change the tempo or game plan with the big lead.
“We didn’t do that on purpose,” Mason said when asked about slowing things down in the fourth quarter. “I think the experience got to us and fatigue.”
Stillwater went on a 14-0 run to cut the lead to 72-63 with 7:12 left in the game.
By the time the Elam Ending started (at the first dead ball in the final four minutes), the score was 76-69 Enchantment, meaning the clock was turned off and a target score of 84 was set to decide the game.
The Stars scored the first four to cut it to 76-73 before Antino Jackson hit a layup. Enchantment was one basket away at 81-76 when Mathis hit a 3, and even closer when Giddens added two free throws for an 83-80 edge.
After that Mathis 3 pulled Enchantment within a made 3 of winning, the Stars outrebounded them 4-1, including two offensive boards, forced a turnover and the Lobo alumni went 0-4 from the field.
Enchantment shot 60.4% (20-of-33) in the blistering first half, but just 36.4% (12-33) in the second half.
ELSEWHERE IN THE REGION: Stillwater moves on to play No. 1 seed Eberline Drive on Sunday night in Wichita. Eberline Drive is coached by Albuquerque Academy graduate and current Memphis Tigers assistant coach Cody Toppert.
Cody’s brother, Chad, and parents, Linda and Bob Toppert, were all former Lobo basketball players and Chad even played in the Lobo alumni all-star game last weekend in the Pit. Had there been a round-two matchup with the Lobo alumni team, Cody joked they all would help him with the scouting report.
“My entire family went to support the crew (last weekend in the Pit),” he said. “No doubt they took some notes.”
In the game prior to Enchantment’s loss, Eberline Drive beat NG Saints, 86-68. Eberline Drive’s roster features former NMSU Aggies star Trevelin Queen, who scored 12 points and hit a pair of 3s. The NG Saints got 10 points off the bench from former Lobos guard Zane Martin.
MISSING TIM: Former Lobo Tim Williams had to leave the team to be with a sick family member and was not at Saturday night’s game.
STATS: Postgame stats from The Basketball Tournament:
STILLWATER STARS (84): Cezar Guerrero 2-3 0-2 5, Markel Brown 7-15 3-3 18, Michael Qualls 8-16 1-2 18, Jeffrey Carroll Jr. 5-13 5-5 18, Jayce Johnson 6-9 1-2 13, Brian Williams 0-0 0-0 0, Brandon Averette 5-9 0-3 12, Chris Oliver 0-5 0-0 0. Totals 33-70 10-17 84.
THE ENCHANTMENT (83): Darington Hobson 2-7 0-0 5, Jamaal Smith 1-5 0-0 2, J.R. Giddens 6-9 3-3 17, Drew Gordon 7-13 0-1 14, Anthony Mathis 7-12 0-0 16, Roman Martinez 2-4 0-0 6, Cleveland “Pancake” Thomas 2-4 2-2 6, Phillip McDonald 1-2 0-0 2, Michael Holyfield 1-1 4-6 6, Antino Jackson 3-9 2-4 9. Totals 32-66 11-15 93.
SST 17 22 14 31 — 84
ECT 23 28 21 11 — 83
3-point goals: SST 8-27 (Guerrero 1-12, Brown 1-5, Qualls 1-7, Carroll 3-9, Averette 2-3), ECT 8-25 (Hobson 1-3, Smith 0-3, Giddens 2-3, Gordon 0-1, Mathis 2-5, Martinez 2-2, Thomas 0-2, McDonald 0-1, Jackson 1-5). Rebounds: SST 35 (Johnson 15), ECT 41 (Hobson, Giddens, Gordon 8). Assists: SST 19 (Averette 6), ECT 18 (Hobson 6). Total fouls: SST 19, ECT 17. A—1.