Peaking at just the right time
The Crested Butte Titan boys basketball team closed out the regular season winning five in a row and holding their own against one of the top 2A programs in the state. Suffice it to say, they are playing their best basketball of the season right now, and that bodes well for the Titans as they head into the district tournament this week.
They opened the final week of the regular season against the Cotopaxi Pirates, rolling to a 49-33 win. After the team built a 20-point lead paced by a stifling half-court press, coach Brandin Hamilton eased back on the throttle to get kids time on the floor in a varsity game and cruise to the win.
Quinn Winter led all players with 24 points and 12 rebounds, followed by fellow twin tower John Thies, who scored nine points.
The win marked the Titans’ fourth in a row as they prepared to host the Antonito Trojans in Mt. Olympus on Friday, February 20. While Hamilton knew it was a very winnable game, a couple of things concerned him.
“Their offense scared me a little bit—they can put some points on the board and love to shoot the three,” says Hamilton.
Furthermore, Winter was going to be late for the game due to a college meeting so Hamilton prepared his team for ways to pick up the scoring while Winter was away.
“I wasn’t sure when Quinn would be showing up so we talked about balanced scoring, worked on movement off the ball and shooting with confidence,” explains Hamilton. “They came out ready.”
Four different Titans scored in the first six minutes of the game as Joe Hayes opened with an eight-foot jumper. Noah Dumas followed with a three-pointer, David Wasinger sliced through for a lay-up and Thies dropped in two inside the paint.
Unfortunately, while everything was clicking on offense, the Titans defense struggled and the Trojans matched them point-for-point. It wasn’t until Winter stepped into the game with two minutes left in the first quarter that the Titans managed to build a slight lead. Winter scored the first two times he touched the ball and Hayes buried a jumper at the buzzer for a 22-16 Titans lead.
“I was a little worried that we were allowing them to score that much,” says Hamilton. “I basically just challenged the guys to pick it up on defense.”
With the Titans defense stepping up, Winter unstoppable inside, Dumas in the zone from three-point range and Hayes having the best game of his career, the Titans opened up on Antonito in the second quarter to take a 39-24 lead into halftime.
“Noah hitting threes and Joe hitting mid-range jumpers was huge because it prevented them from packing the defense in around Quinn,” says Hamilton.
Jakob Munroe joined in on the scoring in the second half, adding in six points. Winter continued to dominate and the Titans spent the rest of the game putting on their best offensive show of the season, sealing a 71-44 win.
“Both on the scoreboard and on the floor it was our best game offensively,” says Hamilton. “I still was never all that happy with our defense, though.”
Hamilton was happy with the way both seniors, Winter and Hayes, played their final home game as Titans. Winter finished the game with 35 points and Hayes closed with 11. Dumas had his best game offensively as well, finishing with 15 points.
“Quinn and Joe both went out with their highest points total in a game all season and it was nice to see,” says Hamilton.
With five wins in a row, the Titans headed to Sanford on Saturday with a busload of confidence. Still, it would take a miracle to pull off an upset, as Sanford is 19-0 in 2A and gunning for a state title.
As a result, Hamilton kept expectations for his team tempered heading into the game.
“I wanted it to be a game where we could take something positive from it,” says Hamilton.
Sanford did what they do, pressuring the ball early and preventing the Titans from finding any rhythm on offense while setting a frantic pace that eventually led to Crested Butte’s 47-23 demise.
“We never got many good looks. We did everything well except scoring,” says Hamilton. “We couldn’t make any aggressive moves to the basket.”
Nevertheless, it was a far better result than when the two teams met earlier this season.
“I was actually happy with our defense and we made them work to get points,” adds Hamilton. “Both offensively and defensively we looked more prepared than the first time we played them.”
The Titans will face Center on Tuesday, February 24 in the first round of the district tournament. A win there will guarantee the Titans a spot in the regional tournament, which is also the first round of states.
The Titans lost both times to Center during the regular season but Hamilton believes that with confidence on the ball and perimeter shooting, the Titans have a chance to advance.
“If we can handle their full-court pressure and get our big guys involved underneath by hitting shots from outside, we should be good,” says Hamilton. “And discipline on defense because they’re going to knock some shots down, we just have to stay composed and disciplined.”
If the Titans win Tuesday, they will enter the semis of the district tournament on Friday, February 27 and, win or lose, move onto regionals.
“That will be the icing on the cake for the season,” says Hamilton. “The extra games and experience will be extraordinary.”