Grand Junction uses fast start, solid defense to top Montrose in battle for second in SWL

Grand Junction was expecting Montrose’s best shot.

Tuesday night, the Tigers held off the Indians’ second- and third-quarter runs in a 66-41 victory.

“We had a big win down at their place,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “We knew this one was big for them, being only one game behind us in the league standings, but it was pretty dang important for us too.”

The Tigers (15-6, 7-2 Southwestern League) zapped much of Montrose’s pregame energy opening the first quarter with a 12-4 run. Grand Junction continued to push with Nate Yanez putting the Tigers ahead 20-7 with a 3-pointer.

“We haven’t been a team that jumps on people,” Johnson said. “So to do that was huge because we knew they’d have a run eventually.”

Montrose (15-6, 5-4 SWL) made its push in the second quarter with a Nathan Hawley layup cutting the deficit to 24-17. Montrose got within three points at 24-21 off two Pierce Donley free throws.

Grand Junction responded with a run of its own in the final three minutes of the first half to lead 31-24 at halftime.

“I thought we did a good job of maintaining,” Johnson said. “There were times when the game was out of control and the guys kept their cool.” The Tigers’ James Wilkinson opened the second half with an easy layup and Sean Rubalcaba put Grand Junction ahead by 10 with a put-back for the 36-26 lead.

Rubalcaba drew the assignment of defending Montrose’s 6-foot-8 center, Brian Davidson, and excelled. Rubalcaba finished with a game-high 16 points and 11 rebounds.

“(Sean) was a man on the boards,” Johnson said. “He went right at Davidson and did a great job on the glass.”

Davidson struggled to find open looks Tuesday, finishing with eight points.

“Sean and James did a good job of guarding him,” Johnson said. “And when he caught it, we did a good job of clogging the paint.”

Montrose cut the lead to six at 40-34 late in the third quarter with back-to-back 3s from Hawley and Niko Youngren.

“They are a good team and they can make shots,” Grand Junction junior Casey Burns said. “We had to get defensive stops.”

The Tigers put together a slew of defensive stops in the fourth quarter, and Burns all but sealed the game with a steal that led to a dunk. Burns’ two-handed slam put the Tigers ahead 61-41.

“I stole the ball and looked up and knew I could put it in easy,” Burns said. “It was a good way to end the game.”


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