The Pit was hot Monday night.
And the poorly-functioning air conditioning in the half-century-old arena wasn’t even the worst of it.
With a nationally-televised audience watching, the Lobos and Aggies — or in this instance The Enchantment, a team of mostly former UNM players and the Panamaniacs, a team of mostly former NMSU players — put on an old-fashioned rivalry slugfest that had emotions running high and gave an announced Pit crowd of 3,532 a chance to roar as if it were one of the packed houses of yesteryear.
Joe Furstinger scored the final eight points of the game and Albuquerque native Scott Bamforth, the only non-former Lobo on the roster, had a team-high 24 points to lead The Enchantment to a nerve-wracking 89-82 win over the Panamaniacs in the opening round of the New Mexico Regional of the $1 million winner-take-all The Basketball Tournament.
“I felt at home, which I am,” said Bamforth, a Del Norte High graduate who was recruited by neither the Lobos nor the Aggies out of high school but has developed since college at Weber State into a highly-successful professional player overseas.
“I was telling the guys in the morning I’m blessed to put on a Lobo jersey to play with y’all. … Maybe I was a late bloomer (is why they never recruited me), but it just felt good to really be a Lobo for a day.”
That the crowd was announced at just 3,532 surprised Furstinger, who played in four Lobo/Aggie rivalry games that all drew more than 14,000 fans.
“Honestly, the entire game, it felt like there was probably like 10- 12,000 (fans),” Furstinger said. “I mean, obviously, it wasn’t that it felt like an actual rivalry – New Mexico State/New Mexico game.”
It almost didn’t turn out Enchantment’s way.
A year after the team set a TBT record by blowing a 23-point lead in a first-round loss to the Stillwater Stars in the 2021 TBT, the team found itself up 23 on Monday before the Panamaniacs started to rally — rather ferociously — in the second half behind guards Evan Gilyard, who scored 17 of his team-high 25 points in the second half, Terrell Brown and Ian Baker.
The Panamaniacs cut a 17-point halftime deficit to eight by the fourth quarter, and it was down to three when the TBT’s unique Elam Ending format set a target score eight points ahead of the leading team’s score at the final media timeout.
The target score of 88 was set after a pair of Elijah Brown free throws put the Enchantment ahead 80-73.
First team to 88 wins.
Furstinger, who had four points to that point of the game, scored the final eight for the win — a bitter blow for a Panamaniacs team that lost two starters, Zach Lofton and Justin Hawkins, to hamstring injuries in the first 2 1/2 minutes of the game.
The loss was painful enough.
But did the fact that it came to the rival Lobos make it hurt more?
“Yes, honestly just because they’re Lobos,” said Panamaniac Brown, who scored 16 points.
The Enchantment now faces regional top seed Heartfire in Tuesday night’s regional semifinal at 7 p.m. in the Pit.
No. 1 HEARTFIRE 84, No. 8 COMPETITIVE CHOICE 75: The region’s top seed led by as many as 15 late in the game and held on for the win and a chance to play the host Enchantment in Tuesday’s regional semifinal round.
Heartfire, coached by former NBA player LaPhonso Ellis, had four players score in double figures.
No. 2 CHALLENGE ALS 87, No. 7 ONCE A BRONCO 71: Former Fresno State Bulldog and 2016 Mountain West Player of the Year Marvelle Harris is still comfortable in the Pit.
Harris went for a game-high 28 points on 8-of-10 shooting, including a perfect 10-of-10 at the free throw line, in the win. In his last college game in the Pit on Feb. 27, 2016, Harris had 32 points and 10 assists and led Fresno State to a win over the Lobos.
No. 3 LA CHEATERS 73, No. 6 RAM UP 68: Sedrick Barefield drained a game-winning 3-pointer — his sixth of the game — to clinch the win (the winning target score in the Elam Ending format was 72).
Barefield’s 25 points led the way for the Cheaters, who rallied from a 10-point halftime deficit over the team of Colorado State Rams alumni.
TUESDAY: The Enchantment vs. Heartfire, 7 p.m., the Pit