Aspen can’t overcome Eagles’ run, fall to defending champs
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
FORT COLLINS, Colorado ” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum wishes he had one minute back.
His Skiers were rolling in Thursday’s 3A state basketball tournament Great 8 matchup with defending champion Faith Christian, leading by as many as 10 points during the first quarter. The Eagles were not content to let a repeat bid slip away in the quarterfinals, however, and switched to smothering full-court pressure in the second quarter.
Aspen’s ball handlers were flustered. They repeatedly turned the ball over in the backcourt during a one-minute stretch in which Faith scored 12 consecutive points and seized the lead. Not even a timeout could slow the soaring Eagles.
Faith would not trail again. It strung together seven straight points to break open a tight game in the third and cruised to the 64-53 victory, overcoming a career game from Skiers forward Trevor Watson and crushing Aspen’s state title hopes for a second straight year.
“We handled their knockout punch early, then they exposed some of our weaknesses,” Ketchum said afterward. “It was like pulling a finger out of a dam and the whole thing gushes.”
Ketchum knows that feeling well. His Skiers hit two free throws in the first quarter of last year’s state semifinal and trailed Faith, 26-2, after nine minutes. They went on to lose, 52-34.
This time around, it was Aspen that dealt the first blow ” courtesy of Watson.
The senior scored nine of his team’s first 11, connecting both in the paint and from behind the arc, to give the Skiers the early 15-5 lead.
He scored 19 of his career-high 26 in the first half ” including a 3-pointer just before the buzzer in the second quarter to pull Aspen to within one at 32-31.
“He played like a man possessed,” Ketchum said.
Watson’s effort was not enough to overcome poor ball handling and a lack of offensive balance. The Skiers turned the ball over 13 times in the first half, leading to 17 Eagles points, and received just four points from their bench the entire game.
Watson, one of four Aspen players averaging double figures, was the lone Skier to score more than eight.
Five different players scored 11 or more points for Faith, which shot 60 percent in the second half.
“We started turning the corner in the second [quarter],” Eagles coach Andrew Hasz said. “I do think we have a speed advantage. … We graduated a lot of players but the young guys we have are probably a little faster than last year’s group. They were able to create some opportunities for us.”
Guard Joel Hegarty nailed a 3 from the wing, then forward Justin Gallagher finished twice in the paint to give Faith a 44-36 advantage with 4:51 to play in the third quarter. Hegarty, who finished with 15 points, drove through the lane and converted off the glass in the waning moments to stretch the lead to 10 heading to the fourth.
The Eagles were content to play keep-away in the last quarter, and converted four of five free-throw attempts in the final two-plus minutes. Aspen could pull no closer than nine down the stretch.
The Skiers will look to rebound Friday when they play in the consolation bracket semifinals. They’ll face the loser of Thursday’s Eaton-Coal Ridge game, which was slated to tip off at 7 p.m.
“We still have our heads up,” Holmes said. “We have two games to go and we’re going to finish as best we can. That’s why we came here.”
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