When you really get down to it, the championship game of the Jalene Berger Allstate Holiday Hoops Classic at Rio Rancho High School on Dec. 30 came down to an 86-second contest.
That’s when the host Rams’ game with Santa Fe was tied for the final time, after an underhand layup by Jamal Bynum knotted the contest at 42 and began an 8-0 run for the Rams.
Rams coach Wally Salata got a timeout with 1:03 to go after a Demons’ shot missed its mark and a Ram was fouled, although without a free throw awarded because it was only the Demons’ sixth team foul.
Then it was time for the smallest guy on the court to make the biggest shot of the game: Rio Rancho’s 5-foot-7 senior guard Andrew Sanchez drained a 3-pointer to bring the crowd to its feet. With 3:26 left in the fourth quarter, Sanchez had nailed a 3 from the other corner of the gym to give the Rams a 40-39 edge.
Santa Fe’s Diego Ortiz was fouled on a shot, but missed both free throws. Keagan Caton got the rebound off the second shot and was fouled, and the Rams senior was gold on his free throws, making it a two-possession game, 47-42.
Santa Fe seemingly could do nothing right, and the Rams’ defense was solid, and a bad-pass turnover by the Demons got the ball back into the Rams’ hands.
Caton was back at the foul line with 4.2 showing on the clock, and he made one of two free throws for the game’s final point, and the Rams won their own tournament for the third time in a row. (see chart.)
Earlier, the Rams used a 12-2 run to grab an 8-point lead, and held a 22-16 lead at halftime.
An 11-2 run to start the second half put the Demons on top, and they held a 36-33 lead heading into the fourth quarter. In the third period, the Rams picked up five personal fouls to just one for Santa Fe.
“We could’ve fallen apart there, and they could’ve got up by 10,” Rams coach Wally Salata said. “It’s all good, because that’s a team that lives by the 3.”
The lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter, as the tenacious Rams’ defense led to five Demons turnovers, while the Rams had just one turnover in the final period and just 12 for the game.
“Because it gives us a four-game winning streak (and) we won our tournament,” Salata said, this victory was the best of the season (and) “gives us a lot of confidence going forward.”
He said he didn’t worry when the Demons started nibbling at the Rams’ lead by sinking three consecutive 3s to start the second half.
“I told them if you have a layup, take the layup, of if you have the open 3,” he said. “We will take the open 3, because I know these guys can make it.”
The Rams connected on four 3s in the game, with three of them by Sanchez. The Demons finished with five treys, with only one of them in the first half – when they missed 9 or 10 from behind the arc.
Sanchez led the Rams with a season-high 16 points; Caton, finishing in double figures for the 10th time in as many games, added 12.
Salata felt the win avenged his team’s 44-40 loss at Santa Fe on Dec. 14.
“I have never been associated with any team in the 23 years I’ve coached where we’ve had 10 opponents that have had incredible records,” he said, after the Demons suffered just their second loss of the season.
“It was a goal of ours, at the beginning of the year, was to win our tournament,” Salata said.
RAMifications: The Rams got the 8 seed for the APS Metro Championships, and they’ll face No. 9 Eldorado at 7:15 p.m. today (Jan. 4) at Atrisco Heritage Academy.
… Bynum was awarded the “Allstate Good Hands” trophy for his play as a guard, and also was named to the all-tourney team with teammate Jeremiah Morris and Caton, named the MVP.
… Santa Fe, by the time it played the Rams, had played as many games in Rio Rancho as the Rams. The Demons’ first loss of the season came on Dec. 21, a 66-63 loss to Cleveland in the Thunderdome.
… Hope Christian beat Espanola Valley 66-61 in the third-place game; St. Pius X defeated Sandia 56-35 for fifth place; Sandia Prep slipped past Socorro (Texas) 51-47 for seventh place.
… The Rams are back in the RAC Tuesday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m. to face Belen, a late addition to this year’s schedule.