RIFLE, Colorado - A defensive switch for the Montrose High School boys basketball team made a world of difference for the Indians' offense on Wednesday, and it came at the expense of the Rifle Bears in the first round of the Class 4A regional playoffs.
Montrose's switch to an extended defensive zone in the second half limited the Bears' offense, and it paved the way to a 28-point fourth quarter for the Indians on their way to a 56-46 victory.
"We knew we had to get out on their shooters," Montrose (11-12 overall) coach Martin Maloney said. "Mostly, we went to a three out, two in defense to make sure we could protect that 3-point line. We felt like that was going to be their best way to catch up with us.
"By that, we did do a good job of getting our hands up and ready, got some deflections and got some good transition buckets that way," he continued.
Montrose, thanks to that big fourth quarter, will make the transition into the state tournament's round of 16. The Indians will play at No. 2-seeded Broomfield (19-4) at 8 p.m. Friday.
Angelo Youngren scored 13 points and Benton Cruz paced the Indians with 14, including a 6-for-6 performance from the foul line in the fourth quarter.
Tanner Quick scored a game-high 16 points to lead the Bears (13-10), who had won 10 of their last 11 games headed into Wednesday's matchup but ended their season with the loss. Rifle's mistakes, including their 19 turnovers over the course of the game, helped give the Indians more opportunities to pull away in the final stanza.
"To win 13 games for this group is pretty good," Rifle coach Roger Walters said. "But when you get to this point, you always want something more. To go out on a game that's not your best is tough to swallow."
Rifle rebounded from a poor first half, however, rallying from a 20-14 halftime deficit to take a 26-25 lead on a 3-pointer from Jake Statler with 2 minutes, 47 seconds on the clock. The Bears built on that lead, going up 32-28 headed onto the fourth quarter when Adam Rice hit 1-of-2 foul shots with 0.5 seconds left.
Montrose roared back, though. A 3-pointer from Cruz at the 7:25 mark knotted the score at 33-all, and a jumper from Youngren on the Indians' next possession gave them the lead for good.
A layup from Rifle's Cody Rice with 51 seconds remaining pulled the Bears within 47-44, and Youngren missed the front end of a 1-and-1 foul shot opportunity. But the Bears turned the ball over after pulling down the rebound, and Montrose hit 6-of-8 free throws in the next 30 seconds to pull away.
The loss ended the season for a Rifle squad which, after starting the Western Slope League season 1-6, won its final seven league games and earned a first-round postseason game at home.
"I can't explain why we played so poorly," Walters said. "It was unbelievably painful to watch. We just struggled at both ends of the floor. We were just really bad.
"We played better coming out of the half and had better juice and made better decisions," the coach continued. "But still. What I saw out there reminded me of the way we were before Christmas. That wasn't near good enough."