Junction puts it on the line: Free throws in fourth quarter help Tigers top Warriors

Grand Junction’s Tommy Powers drives past Central’s Vandon Sanchez for two of his 16 points Tuesday in the Tigers’ 56-50 victory.

The Grand Junction High School boys basketball team knows how to close out games.

Tuesday night at Grand Junction, it was clutch free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter that helped the Tigers seal a 56-50 win over Central.

After holding its fourth quarter lead over Montrose last Friday night with good free-throw shooting, the Tigers (12-4, 4-0 Southwestern League) did it again. Grand Junction made 14 of 17 free throws in the fourth quarter to ice the game.

“It came down to making free throws at the end,” Grand Junction coach Dutch Johnson said. “We’ve had three games where it came down to making free throws at the end to keep a lead.”

Where the Montrose game went back and forth, this time, the Tigers built a double-digit lead against the Warriors (7-8, 0-2 SWL) in the third quarter. But Central played better in the fourth quarter, and seemed to be one or two big plays away from taking the lead.

“When we get a lead of 10 points and have chances to bury them, we have to figure out how to do that,” Johnson said. “We had two or three times where we had chances, but we would make a mistake and let them back into it.”

Grand Junction had a 38-28 lead early in the fourth, before the Warriors’ Vandon Sanchez started heat up. Sanchez cut the lead to 40-37 with 5:35 remaining when he drove the baseline, made the shot in traffic and drew the foul. Central coach Phil Cain said it was the guard play of Vandon Sanchez, Taylor Sanchez and Spencer Hicks that kept the Warriors alive.

“Our guard play picked it up,” Cain said. “The kids battled and came with energy.”

The Warriors’ performance was impressive after a 59-40 blowout loss to Fruita Monument nearly two weeks ago. In its first game since the loss, Central played with more determination on both ends of the floor.

“I think it was a good learning lesson at Fruita,” Cain said. “They responded well tonight and never gave up.”

Central was led by Josh Wells, who battled all night inside with Tigers post players Jesse Smith and James Wilkinson. Wells and Smith traded baskets throughout the game, and both finished with 14 points.

“Wells is a tough matchup,” Johnson said. “We wanted to get the ball to Jesse as much as we could to make Josh work on the defensive end.”

Grand Junction was led by Tommy Powers, who had 16 points. Powers had a big second quarter with seven points, including a long field goal with five seconds left to give the Tigers a 24-16 halftime lead.

Sam Morgan added 11 points for the Tigers — all at the free-throw line. The senior guard went 11 of 12 for the Tigers.

“It says a lot that we won’t let teams back into it,” Morgan said. “We know how to hold a lead for the whole game.”

The Tigers have rushed out to a 4-0 SWL record, but will have a tough test Friday against Fruita Monument.

“It was a great crowd tonight, and it’s going to be a great crowd Friday,” Johnson said. “(Fruita) was here watching us, which is good because they saw us when we didn’t play our best.”

Central looks to gets its first league win Thursday against Montrose.


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