A step farther than a year ago.
Still miles away from the destination.
In a highly emotional, often tense and chippy game, the Enchantment, a team composed of mostly former UNM Lobos, couldn’t hold on to a big early lead, falling to the top-seeded Heartfire, 79-74, in the semifinal of The Basketball Tournament’s New Mexico Regional on Tuesday night in the Pit.
“These guys played their hearts out,” said Enchantment coach and former UNM star Kenny Thomas. “… They had some top guys. There were some good players – some pros (on Heartfire), right? But I think we came out and we played with a lot of energy, especially on the back-to-back (after having played a hard-fought rivalry game less than 24 hours earlier in the Pit, beating a team of former NMSU players on Monday night).
“We got off to a good start, but of course, it’s basketball, man. You know, teams are gonna go on runs and that’s what happened. We stepped up, we just didn’t finish.”
Heartfire moves on to Thursday’s Regional Final in the Pit against No. 3 seed LA Cheaters. The winner will advance to Dayton, Ohio, where the final eight teams of the 64-team, $1 million winner-take-all tournament will play later this month.
After Monday’s win, Enchantment came out on fire Tuesday.
In front of an announced crowd of 2,041, the home team led 14-3, including 3-pointers by Scott Bamforth, J.R. Giddens and Anthony Mathis before Heartfire made its first field goal.
Heartfire hit just two of its first 16 shots and Enchantment led by as many as 16 points at 25-9 on a Phillip McDonald bucket with 1:04 left in the quarter.
But Heartfire answered with a 15-0 run, trailed by just one at the half and neither team led by more than six in the second half.
Enchantment took a 71-70 lead into the final media timeout, which is when the Elam Ending target score of 79 was set.
In the final stretch, the same problem that plagued Enchantment on Monday night when the Panamaniacs nearly rallied from down 23 points, came into play again: The Enchantment couldn’t stay in front of smaller, penetrating point guards.
Heartfire’s 6-foot point guard, Eric Washington, scored nine of his game-high 26 points after the Elam Ending target score was set for the win, sending Enchantment home early.
Enchantment was led again in scoring by the only non-Lobo on the roster, but also the only New Mexico-born player, in Del Norte High graduate Scott Bamforth.
Bamforth had a team-high 22 points and hit six 3-pointers while drawing the tough, physical defensive attention all night of the opponent.
J.R. Giddens added 14 points and Anthony Mathis had 10 for Enchantment.
Heartfire score 26 points off 17 Enchantment turnovers and outscored the home team 40-20 in the paint.
With 3:27 left in the second quarter of a game that had already shown it was getting chippy on both sides, a foul on Bamforth led to players pushing each other. Heartfire coach LaPhonso Ellis, a former NBA player and current ESPN college basketball analyst, came from his bench across the court and got in the middle of breaking players up.
At one point, he looked at Furstinger and with two hands shoved him, leading to his being ejected.
As he walked off the court, he tried stopping at the Enchantment bench to apologize and at one point put his hand on Drew Gordon’s neck/cheek area, a gesture at the time Gordon did not like and it appeared more arguing would ensue. Instead, people separated the two and Ellis walked up the Pit ramp to boos.
After the game, the Journal asked Ellis about his ejection.
“I apologize to the team (Enchantment). I apologize to my team for losing my cool,” Ellis said. “I’m ashamed of my behavior, yet I’m grateful for the way these guys went out and fought. My greatest concern was that my behavior would have been a distraction and a detriment to what we were (trying to do tonight). I’ve asked for their forgiveness and I ask for the forgiveness of the guys that were involved in it from the team that we were playing against.”
No. 3 LA CHEATERS 80, No. 2 CHALLENGE ALS 74: In the first regional seminal of the night, the team formed mostly of players who participate in the famous “Drew League” in Los Angeles, used a 14-0 scoring run to start the fourth quarter and pull off a slight upset of one of the TBT’s more veteran squads.
Casper Ware, Jr., son of the team’s coach, scored 19 points and hit the game winner (the Elam Ending’s target score was set at 79 to win). Former NBA player James Ennis had a double-double with 11 points and 15 rebounds.
Challenge ALS was led by Cal graduate Jerome Randle’s 21 points.