GJ stops Indians' top scoring threat to advance
Grand Junction got what it wanted Tuesday, a 57-48 first-round win at home in the Class 5A boys basketball playoffs.
It held Conor Lang, Loveland’s 6-foot-6, deep-3 specialist, to two points.
The Tigers clogged more than a few Loveland rallies, staged a few of their own and did not let Loveland (14-10) gain a lead.
Four Tigers — Broderick Robinson, Justin Whiting, Casey Burns and Shane Powers — combined to hit five 3-pointers.
Defense — it was there.
Now on to Friday’s second-round game at No. 1 Arapahoe (21-2).
Robinson and Whiting led Grand Junction with 13 points apiece.
Burns had nine points. Of his four field goals, two were dunks, a good home finale, said Burns.
“It wasn’t like we were playing a real good team,” Burns said, “but it was nice to get a first-round win, especially as a senior.”
Whiting, another senior, had two 3s in the first quarter to help give put the Tigers up 13-3.
Senior Sean Rubalcaba, after Grand Junction slung the ball around the perimeter about five times with 1:30 remaining, found himself open under the hoop for a layup to put the Tigers up 52-45.
And Powers, yet another senior, hit a 3-pointer and twice squirmed through defenders on fast breaks to finish with open layups.
The future showed up as well. Junior Zach Kiel had key offensive rebounds and put-backs late in the game to finish with nine points.
And Robinson, a sophomore point guard, hit a pair of free throws with 40 seconds remaining to give the Tigers a 54-48 lead and showed what Grand Junction could have at point guard for two more seasons — solid shooting, sticky ball-handling and speed-skater quickness.
“We just have to keep it going,” Robinson said. “We have a tough team, obviously, coming up, but if we play together we could win. We just have to play loose and have fun. Having fun is the important part.”
The fun could continue thanks in part to Burns’ defense and Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson’s scouting on Lang. Film he watched showed that if Lang was open, he rarely missed from behind the 3-point line, and he was getting room to shoot off ball screens.
So, of course, Grand Junction utilized Burns’ defense and the other Tigers on the court to hedge screens and keep Lang from having even an arm’s length of space.
Not to mention, the Tigers already were prepared to play such defense.
“A lot of teams in our conference set a lot of ball screens,” Johnson said.
But in the end, stopping Lang perhaps was not as difficult as it seems.
“I just played good ‘D’,” Burns said.
No. 3 Fruita Monument (20-3) will host No. 6 Lincoln (14-10) on Friday in the second round of the state playoffs after Lincoln defeated Pomona 70-49.
In the Class 2A District 5 boys tournament, Paonia won at Rangely 65-55, advancing to play Meeker in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. on Friday at West Grand High School.
Anthony Roeber led Paonia with 20 points. Hayden topped Soroco to advance to the semifinals.
Rifle downed Hotchkiss 53-32 in the girls Class 3A Western Slope District tournament and will play Grand Valley in the semifinals Friday at Palisade. Grand Valley defeated Coal Ridge, 48-23.
Olathe, which defeated Aspen 58-45, will play Gunnison in the other semifinal at 6:30 p.m. Gunnison defeated Roaring Fork 33-31.
Hayden defeated Soroco 52-51 in a girls Class 2A District 5 first-round game and plays Paonia in Friday’s semifinals against at 6 p.m. at West Grand High School.