Although an eerily quiet gym with less than 50 fans in attendance made a contest Wednesday between the Durango and M-CHS boys basketball teams sound more like an afternoon practice than one of Colorado’s most heated rivalries, players on both sides brought energy throughout the night.
In the end, Durango’s talent proved too much for a young Panthers squad to overcome as the Demons built a 20-point halftime lead before coasting throughout much of the second half to a 63-44 victory.
Senior Walter Stauffer led the way offensively for Durango with 14 points, while senior teammate Sam Johnson scored 13. Joining the Demons senior duo in double figures were junior Anthony Flint with 13 points and sophomore Dylan Bettin with 11.
M-CHS was paced by sophomore Sawyer Smith, who scored 15 points, and junior J.T. Carver, who chipped in 11. Sophomore Austin Wood contributed five points to the Panthers’ cause.
Among the several factors that contributed to Durango’s big win was the team’s ability to create turnovers during a frenetic first half that saw M-CHS struggle to move the ball across half court against the Demons’ full-court press.
Also contributing to the Panthers’ difficulties was a marked Durango size advantage that became evident when Stauffer posted up on the low block at will and Flint attacked the basket with little fear of rejection from M-CHS’ undersized guards.
“We said that we had to dominate the paint and win all the paint points,” Demons head coach Alan Batiste said. “We also turned them up a little bit and forced some turnovers. We were able to execute off the turnovers, and that’s always a plus sign. We haven’t had that opportunity this season.”
Although a big first half allowed the Demons pull ahead 19-7 at the end of the opening quarter and extend its lead to 33-13 by halftime, all was not rosy for the Demons during a second half that saw the Panthers outscore Durango by a point.
Keying M-CHS’ second-half turnaround was Smith, who pulled down several rebounds and attacked the rim with abandon on his way to 13 second-half points that saved his team from a complete blowout.
“(Smith) is like the energizer bunny – he never stops,” M-CHS head coach Michael Hall said. “I like to see his aggressiveness. He’s a young kid, and he’s learning every day. I love to see him attacking the basket.”
Even with Smith’s effort, however, the Panthers found themselves unable to carve into their big deficit as Flint, Johnson and Bettin attacked the basket and Stauffer controlled the paint and pulled down numerous rebounds.
A 5-0 lead by M-CHS highlighted by transition hoops by Carver and Smith made the score 33-18 before Durango responded with a layup by Johnson with 4:10 left in the third quarter and a soft dunk by Flint moments later.
Ahead 43-24 entering the game’s final eight minutes, Durango consistently pounded the ball inside to Stauffer, and senior responded by scoring six points in the quarter that included a nifty jump shot in the paint off a baseline out-of-bounds play that put his team ahead 51-29.
“(Stauffer) has been struggling a bit with his confidence, but he had an excellent game and got his confidence back up,” Batiste said. “Him touching the ball down there and being able to score was a big plus for us.”
While the contest was highlighted by energized play from both sides, the relatively quiet M-CHS gymnasium felt somewhat strange to both Batiste and Hall, who have stood on opposite ends of the sideline during numerous matchups between their rival teams.
“It definitely helps that there’s no crowd,” Batiste said with a laugh. “Them coming to our house with no crowd and us coming here with no crowd, it wasn’t the full Durango-Cortez rivalry, but when we get between the lines, it’s still a rivalry for the boys.”
With a 4-3 overall record and 1-1 in the Southwest League, Durango will look ahead to difficult home matchups against Montrose on Friday and Grand Junction Central on Saturday.
M-CHS will return to its practice court for one day before putting its 1-7 overall record and 0-3 record in the Intermountain League on the line against Alamosa on Friday and Centauri on Saturday.
“They’re a young team,” Batiste said of the Panthers. “It’s a team full of sophomores, and they play hard. They are right around the corner; we’ve got our hands full when we see them next year, and we’re looking forward to it.”