The backdrop of frenzied orange-and-black-clad fans was familiar, the atmosphere in Ron Wright Memorial Gym was electric, and as always, the stakes were high.
With bragging rights in one of the Southwest’s great basketball rivalries on the line, the Montezuma-Cortez Panthers and the Durango Demons hit the hardwood on Jan. 30, looking to again settle a long-standing score.
As has been the case for the Panthers in recent years however, things did not end well for the hometown boys as the visiting Demons walked away victorious, 57-52.
Clearly fired up to begin the contest, the Panthers pulled ahead 3-0 on their first offensive possession after junior Jonathan Walck drilled a three-pointer from the right corner.
Unable to maintain their momentum however, the Panthers yielded nine straight points to the Demons before ending the first quarter trailing 16-11.
Highlighting the quarter for the Panthers the play of junior Hayden Plewe, who, in addition to solid defensive contributions, scored three of his five total points on a an old-fashioned three-point play to close out the quarter.
Plagued by their inability to secure rebounds and run an offense, however, the Panthers continued to trail during a second quarter that ended with the Demons leading 29-25.
“We have to execute an offense,” said Panthers’ head coach Dusty DeBoer following the contest. “Until we execute and stop turning the ball over, we can’t be competitive.”
Beginning the third quarter much as they finished the second, the Panthers continued to struggle with execution, shooting several contested during the frame, which ended with the Panthers trailing 43-37.
Especially discouraging for the Panthers during the third quarter was the team’s inability to find Whiteskunk, who scored only two of his 16 total points in the quarter.
“We have an offense where guys are moving, so (Whiteskunk) should always be moving to look for a shot,” said DeBoer.
Such movement never occurred however, as the Panthers never pulled closer than six points during a fourth quarter that lacked organization and offensive structure.
“We got a little carried away, stopped making good decisions and it kind of got away from us,” said Walck, who tallied nine points on the night.
Even with the tough loss, however, Panthers coaches and players remained confident that Cortez will improve.
“We have almost unlimited potential,” said DeBoer.
“We’re going to beat (Durango) at their home,” added Panthers’ junior Konnar McGee. “We need to play the kind of basketball that we can.”
Next up for the 5-9 Panthers is a Feb. 7 road matchup against Grand Junction Central.