Montezuma-Cortez High School’s Teagan Whiteskunk knows how to put on a show.
The senior guard scored 15 points against Durango in the first boys basketball matchup between the same two teams in December. On Friday night in the first round of the Southwest Classic in Cortez, he scored 15 in the first half alone. He would finish with a game-high 26 points to lead the host Panthers to a 64-45 win against DHS to set up a championship game at 3 p.m. Saturday against Ignacio.
For Whiteskunk, it was a great way to end his career against the Demons, as he has never lost in the four-plus years he’s been playing Durango.
“We’ve never lost to these guys since our seventh grade year,” Whiteskunk said. “My brother never beat them. It just feels good.”
Heading into the Classic, the Panthers (5-3) had lost three consecutive games. In front of a raucous home crowd in their home opener, Whiteskunk and his teammates delivered an impressive offensive performance to top the Demons (6-6) for the second time this season.
Cortez head coach Mike Hall was impressed with Whiteskunk’s off-the-ball movement. He knew the Demons would guard his star close all night. When Whiteskunk wasn’t scoring, he was influencing the game with key assists and smart decisions to keep the offense flowing.
“I liked the way (Teagan) was moving without the ball tonight,” Hall said. “We’ve been working on that because guys faceguard him because they know he is a scorer. To see him penetrate and pass it and get the ball back and knock his shots down was great.”
Cortez also got big contributions from Titus Jackson, who was its second leading scorer with 13 points. Blake Keetch added eight points.
Durango was led by Martin Cuntz, who scored 16 points, while Jordan Woolverton had 12. Sophomore sharpshooter Anthony Flint had a quiet night with five points, which all came in the first half.
In the first quarter, it was a defensive battle, as both teams struggled to get into rhythm. Cortez jumped out to a 6-2 lead before Flint made his only 3-pointer of the night with 45 seconds remaining in the quarter to give the Demons a 7-6 lead after the opening frame.
In the second quarter, the Panthers got out to nine-point lead at 20-11 behind 3-point shooting and easy baskets inside. The Panthers led 29-17 at halftime.
For Durango head coach Alan Batiste, the second quarter showcased the Demons’ Achilles heel: stopping backdoor cuts.
“It’s been a nemesis all season,” Batiste said. “You’ve got three or four guys on the ball hard and then one guy’s watching. We have to get that defense fixed, quick, ASAP.”
Cuntz echoed Batiste’s sentiments, and thought the second-quarter defense was what ultimately helped Cortez get over the line.
“I think personally, as a team, we weren’t really working as a unit like we usually do,” he said. “Our help-side defense was kind of off tonight, and we missed a lot of easy shots.”
In the third quarter, the Demons came out strong with a quick 7-0 run to cut the deficit to five at 29-24, which forced Hall to spend an early timeout.
“I just told them they needed to slow down a little bit,” Hall said. “They were trying to do things on their own, but once we slowed the ball down and got back in our offense, things improved.”
The Panthers would regroup after the timeout, and they would go on a 7-0 run of their own to make it 36-24. Jackson scored two timely baskets to extend the lead back to double digits.
Durango cut it down to 41-33 after Sam Johnson hit a 3-pointer with under a minute remaining in the quarter. But it was the play of junior Joshua Chupp that helped the Panthers control the remainder of the game.
With under 10 seconds remaining in the third, Chupp drove to the lane, made a sizzling pass to Travis Beeson while falling out of bounds, and Beeson finished the layup. On the ensuing inbound pass, Chupp stole the ball, was fouled and made 1-of-2 free throws, and M-CHS led 44-33.
In the fourth, Woolverton tried to get the Demons back in the game but missed a would-be emphatic dunk, and Cuntz was called for traveling violations on back-to-back possessions that sealed DHS’ fate.
After a third-quarter lull, Whiteskunk got hot again and added eight more points, including a 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining to get him over 25 points on the night.
“They have two dynamic players over there, Titus and Whiteskunk, and if you don’t lock those guys down, you’re not going to win many games against them,” Woolverton said. “They both went off for double digits. They’re tough to guard.”
On Saturday, Bayfield (1-7) will meet Durango in the third-place game at 1 p.m. Batiste said that while the Wolverines’ record is poor, the Demons still have to keep their focus up. The Demons are 1-2 against the Wolverines in the previous three Classics.
“ (Tomorrow) will be big,” Batiste said. “We lost tonight, but the good thing about this tournament is that we get a chance to play tomorrow. They’re not a rival, but they’re the little brother school. These guys all know each other, and it’s good to get a little rivalry between the peers.”
Montezuma-Cortez will play Ignacio (6-0) at 3 p.m. for the championship and will look to extend its winning streak against Ignacio to four consecutive in Classic games.
“We have to stop (Ignacio’s) shooting,” Hall said. “I was watching them shoot during the Bayfield game, and they were on fire. We have to step out and stop their 3s and play the style of basketball that we like to play.”