GJ shines to capture Warrior Challenge

Four games in five days gives a basketball coach a good look at his team.

The majority of that time, Grand Junction High School boys coach Dutch Johnson has liked what he’s seen. As always, there are moments ...

“Slow ... down,” Johnson said Saturday after the Tigers defeated Horizon 48-43 to win the Warrior Challenge title.

“I thought we’d done that every game up to this point. Tonight a team came out and pressured us and sped us up 100 percent, which is what Coach (Dave) Lawrence is trying to do. They did a good job of it.”

At first, it looked as if it wouldn’t even be close. The Tigers scored 12 straight points to open the game and led 13-5 at the end of the first quarter, then got the ball inside on back-to-back plays to Jesse Smith for layups to open the second quarter.

“Early on we were able to give him the ball and we did a good job of keeping it off the floor,” Johnson said. “We got him the ball and he finished and got fouled. The second half we stopped running the offense, stopped looking at him, stopped going to him.

“But when we kept the ball off the floor and ran motion, Jesse was wide-open, whether it was from us cutting and moving or Jesse posting up and being open.”

Smith, a 6-foot-6 senior, led the Tigers (4-0) with 17 points, hitting all six field goals he attempted.

“When they get it into me I can get some points,” Smith said, “and once they start to double-team down on me, it opens up for the other guys on the outside.”

The second half, though, was a problem for Grand Junction, which fell into the habit of taking quick shots and turning the ball over. Horizon’s full-court pressure had the Tigers in a rush, first to get the ball past midcourt, then to score.

“They’re a hundred miles an hour,” Johnson said. “Now, if they’d stay that fast on the defensive end, we’ll be all right.

“When we get in the half-court offense, the first thing they want to do when they catch the ball is put it on the floor. I guarantee, four out of five times when we did that, we turned the ball over.”

The Hawks beat the Tigers to loose balls, long rebounds and offensive rebounds.

A nine-point Horizon run early in the fourth quarter cut Grand Junction’s lead to 44-40 with 2:45 to play, but Sam Morgan drove in from the wing for a layup and a 46-40 lead that gave the Tigers enough of a cushion.

Grand Junction plays Battle Mountain at home Tuesday night, but then has the rest of the week to work on taking a deep breath in the half-court offense, handling the ball against pressure and rebounding.

“That’s good because we haven’t had a chance to do that, playing four games in such a short amount of time,” Johnson said. “We’ll have all week to work on stuff and watch film. The film doesn’t lie.”


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