A three game home stand resulted in three blowouts, the Bernalillo Spartans being the latest victim. The Tigers' average margin of victory in the past three games is a staggering 32 points. The first two games could be seen as apocryphal considering the strength, or lack thereof, of their opponents. Aztec are ranked 112th, while Bloomfield, significantly better than Aztec, are still only ranked 69th. The games felt dismissive, like casting aside a plucky smaller sibling. The starters would put the game away by the half and the reserves would maintain the lead or slightly allow the opposition back in, letting them make a few baskets.
On paper this was supposed to be an even match. Bernalillo came in 4-2, same record as Taos, and ranked 27th, only two spots below Taos. The first half offered some thrilling competitive basketball, something the Tigers hadn’t seen since facing Capital on Dec. 4.
The Spartans were not gun-shy to start the first quarter. They pulled up from deep, early and often, draining 3’s against the zone coverage. The Tigers fought back by going to their reliable inside game. Elden Torres and Daemon Ely attacked the paint on most possessions. The undersized Spartans would have to give up the easy lay-ins or send them to the free throw line. Later on, Bernalillo’s coach would grow exasperated with the calls, “what are we supposed to do?!” The game went back and forth in the first, then on a well drawn inbound play, Isiah Jeantete hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer to end the quarter.
The aggressive 3-point shooting was one part of the Spartans game plan, the other part, which worked fairly well, was to feed it to #11 Chase Darnell around the free throw area. From there, he’d pass it back out to a ball handler or to a shooter squaring up for the three. If there was not enough pressure on him, which there usually wasn’t, he’d take the mid-range jump shot. His jumper is money. His first missed shot was either late in the second quarter or early in the third quarter. The Bernalillo box score stats are missing online but Darnell had at least 20 points if not more, as he had 6 points in the fourth alone.
Unfortunately, they needed more than just one threat once the 3-pointers stopped falling for them. The game was still within reach in the second quarter, the Tigers lead hovered around ten. The paint was a contested battlefield up to this point. Ely finally met a little bit of resistance when he got blocked by behind; he was double teamed on that play. Bernalillo showed a lot of fight inside before heading to the locker room needing something special to recapture the lead.
Instead in the third quarter, the Taos Tigers ran away with it. Everything fell apart for the Spartans. Point guard Isiah Jeantete, with all the attention focused on the centers, would drive it to the weak side for an easy two points. He was a smooth operator on the floor, always in control, he dished out five assists.
Shooting guard Anthony Padilla had a solid game. He led all scorers with an efficient 8 of 15 shooting night. Some of these points came on the fast break from picking their pockets. Padilla had a couple of steals, and the energetic Matthew Mondragon had three steals.
There was a play where Padilla attacked the basket, and with the defender playing good defense, Padilla had to double pump mid air and almost scored off of the acrobatic attempt. He did get fouled and shot free throws. It was the timing of his scoring flourish that really blew open the flood gates.
Ely locked down the paint with 4 blocks. The Spartans could do nothing inside knowing rejection was right around the corner. On one play Ely didn’t even have to do anything, his presence was enough, #25 Brinen Holt had the open layup but threw it up in a nervous rush, he managed to hit the backboard but no rim.
As the game went on, the distance between the two only increased. What was once a close game turned into a full out rout. The Tigers jump up in the rankings to 17th and have a chance to climb higher against Capital On Monday.