Posted On: 02/14/17 3:07 PM
NIWOT – Having lost their last three games to Mountain View, Thompson Valley and Silver Creek, the Niwot boys figured they wouldn’t have much trouble getting back on track against a four-win Centaurus club at home on Monday night.
Well, the Cougars (10-12, 6-7 Northern) did win. But it wasn’t exactly the one-sided contest one might expect from one team playing another that has less than half as many wins.
The late-season 4A Northern League matchup was close from jump to final buzzer, and was even tied with 54.3 seconds left. The Cougars eventually came up with a big defensive play courtesy of senior Carter Osteen and went home with a 69-64 victory.
The Centaurus Warriors (4-17, 1-12 Northern) have lost five games by six points or less this season, and showed why they can’t be taken lightly despite their record. The Niwot Cougars, who had five players score in double digits and entered the week 34th in the RPI (Ratings Percentage Index) rankings, continued to reinforce their growing reputation as a potential tough out in the first round of the postseason.
Here’s a deeper look at the hotly-contested conference game:
MVP: Adam Barber, Niwot
What was unusual about Barber leading the Cougars in scoring on Monday? Nothing really. The 6-foot-3 senior forward has done just that in nearly every game this season. Barber (13.3 ppg) scored 20 points, hitting the 20-point mark for the sixth time this season. He also shot 64 percent (9 for 14) from the field and had seven assists and five rebounds. Barber did all this while playing point guard to make up for the absence of fellow senior captain Jackson Kolakowski, who was home with a 102-degree fever.
Play of the Game: Carter Osteen, Niwot
Knowing his team was holding tight to a slim lead with less than a minute to go, Osteen stepped up to make a big play at the defensive end. With Centaurus’ top scorer Eric Gambon pushing the ball down the court looking for a quick shot to tie the game, Osteen took a charge all the way out past the 3-point line that gave the ball back to the Cougars and allowed them to ice the game at the free-throw line. “To make that play at that point in the game, that basically sealed it,” Niwot head coach Preston Hardy said. “It’s easy to tell a kid to just step in front of somebody who’s going full speed. And he’s been injured this season too, so that was a huge play. We needed someone to step up for the team and Carter did it.”
Best Offensive Performance: Grayson Walker, Centaurus
The senior guard just had one of those, “Are you kidding me?” kind of nights, firing away from behind the 3-point line whenever he had space to do so. Leading all players with 24 points, he hit seven of his nine attempts from distance and several of those baskets came at absolutely critical moments in the close game. On the season, he averages less than 10 points a game but Monday’s shooting performance bumped up his 3-point shooting percentage to 45 percent.
Best Defensive Performance: Jacob Sims, Niwot
While Osteen had the biggest single defensive play of the night, Cougars head coach Preston Hardy couldn’t say enough about Sims’ consistent defensive play throughout the game. Gambon is the type of player who can break a game wide open if left unchecked, and Sims made him work for every one of his points on Monday. Even with a tough defensive assignment, Sims also found time to score 12 points.
Best Guy Off the Bench: Grayson Walker, Centaurus
Here he is again. Head coach Travis Maron says that every now and again at practice, Walker just can’t miss. But being able to knock down big shots in a close game is a different animal entirely, and affecting the game the way he did on Monday is truly impressive as a non-starter. Walker’s seven 3-pointers coming off the bench stunned even Niwot head coach Preston Hardy and propelled him into a starting role in the second half.
Best Intangibles: Eric Gambon, Centaurus
Gambon, who is possibly even better at baseball than he is at basketball, leads the Warriors in scoring and registered his 12th double-digit performance on Monday night. But as usual, that’s not all he did. “From an intangibles standpoint, and what he means to our team, he leads us in just about every category you can think of,” Maron said. “He doesn’t just score the basketball. He’s a great defender, a great leader and he even leads our team in charges. He probably shouldn’t have played tonight because he has a pretty bad foot injury. But this is kind of his last few weeks and he really wanted to give it a go.”
Best Under-the-Radar Performance: Nick Vaver, Centaurus
Monday’s game was yet another close game for the Warriors, and no coach can complain when a sophomore is right in the mix during those high-leverage situations. A state-qualifier during the golf season in the fall, Nick Vaver is familiar with pressure and didn’t shy away from the moment against Niwot. “I thought Nick Vaver played really well,” Maron said. “He shot the ball great and for the moment, it being a big game and a close game, he really stepped up.”
Best Underclassman: Thomas Bounds, Niwot
One of several Cougars to contribute offensively, the 6-foot sophomore guard chipped in 13 points while shooting 45 percent (5 for 11) from the field. He hit three of his six 3-point attempts and also led the Cougars with three steals.
Best Quote: Preston Hardy, Niwot head coach
To be sure, Monday’s game was not the Niwot Cougars’ best. But on a Monday night in mid-February when the season has become long and eyes begin to turn to the postseason, they did what was necessary in order to pick up their 10th victory. “To be honest, it was ugly,” Hardy said. “I mean, it was ugly. It’s hard with teenagers because sometimes you look at the other team’s record and if they have a good record, you get up for it. It they don’t, it’s harder to get up for it. It was a Monday game and everything about it just led to a dead energy in the gym. We talked about it before the game and tried to use those things as reasons to step up and be mentally strong. I think, eventually, we overcame that.”
Best Quote Part II: Travis Maron, Centaurus head coach
The Warriors haven’t had a winning season since the 2009-10 campaign. But in their second season under Maron, who coached Niwot from 2010 to 2013, the Warriors feel as though the may be on the verge of turning a corner. “We’ve had some games where we didn’t show up and that hurt us early on,” Maron said. “The losses add up and when you look at those, it’s hard to keep your motivation. But what I can say is that there hasn’t been a day in practice when the team hasn’t come to work and get better. The character of this group is outstanding and it’s been pretty cool to see how they have worked all season long.”