After producing mixed results during the nonconference portion of their schedule, the Montezuma-Cortez High School boys basketball team entered league play as somewhat of a question mark.
Two games into their conference season, questions abound regarding how good this year’s team can be.
Panthers fall short versus Fruita
Squaring off against Fruita Monument on Jan. 17, the Panthers were doomed by a poor first half, falling behind big early before losing 66-64 on their home floor.
Throughout the game’s early stages, the Panthers were bothered by Fruita’s full court press.
Crippled by turnovers, defensive breakdowns and 19 first half points from Fruita’s Dylan Row, the Panthers entered halftime trailing 32-20.
“The press was killing us,” said Panthers’ head coach Dusty Deboer. “I don’t know why we have to beat ourselves over the head with something until it kills us.”
Throughout the third quarter, the Panthers’ struggles continued and if not for eight third quarter points from senior Briston Walker, a 56-40 deficit entering the fourth quarter would have been worse.
Invigorated by Fruita’s decision to remove full court pressure however, the Panthers staged a 14-2 run, cutting Fruita’s lead to 58-54 with 4:35 left in the game.
Pulling the Panthers even closer with a rare three-pointer, Randy Haley cut the Fruita lead to 59-57 before tying the game 59-59 with a pretty baseline layup.
“I just saw it and I was wide open,” said Haley of his clutch. “I thought I might as well shoot it and it went in.”
As the crowd cheered, the Panthers pulled ahead 60-59 after a free throw by junior Taylor Wilson and 64-62 after a layup by senior Jaron Carver.
The lead would not hold however, as Fruita’s Brandon Kubic tipped in a miss to tie the score 64-64 before Matt Story sunk two late free throws to doom the Panthers.
Leading the Panthers in the loss was Haley, who notched a career high 24-points.
Panthers beat Grand Junction Central
Bouncing back against Grand Junction Central on Jan. 18, the Panthers dominated all phases of the game, cruising to a 75-55 victory.
Keying the win for the Panthers was Walker, who, finding his range from the outside, converted two three-pointers and several jumpers on his way to a team high 16-points.
“I haven’t hit shots like that this year,” said Walker. “It’s good to start feeling that again.”
Also key to the Panthers’ victory was the surprising play of freshman Seth Long, who, playing in only his second varsity contest, scored seven points during a second quarter that ended wit M-CHS leading 39-25.
“I thought I did pretty well,” said Long. “We have to be physical, get the rebounds and put the ball back up.”
Completely dominating throughout the second half, the Panthers pulled ahead 60-34 at the end of three quarters before cruising to victory.
Complimenting Walker’s 16 points, Haley and Carver each scored 11.
With their record now at 5-6, the Panthers will travel to face Montrose on Jan. 24 and Grand Junction on Jan. 25.