“It was fantastic basketball”
by Than Acuff
After a brutal loss at home Friday night to one of the best teams and players in the state of Colorado, the Crested Butte Titans boys basketball team nearly edged out a comeback win the next day, only to lose at the buzzer.
Coach Brandin Hamilton knew what was headed his way Friday, January 26 when the Del Norte Tigers came to Mt. Olympus. Not only are the Tigers ranked fifth in the state, but they also have arguably the best 2A player in the state of Colorado, who is averaging more than 30 points per game.
Still, Hamilton had his plan in place. While there’s no way to keep the guy from scoring, the hope was to limit him to fewer than 20 points and take it from there. But, as game day approached, illness hit the already depleted Titans team and Hamilton had to adjust his game plan once again.
“It forced me to play a zone instead of man-to-man and the guy was just on fire,” says Hamilton.
The opening minute was innocent enough as Del Norte’s star player hit a three-pointer and added in two more but Jovany Aguirre responded with a three of his own and things looked manageable. Yet, as the quarter progressed, Del Norte just got better. While their star rained in three’s, their defense stifled the Titans and Del Norte built a 22-5 lead by the end of the first quarter.
“The way they defended exposed our weaknesses on offense,” says Hamilton. “They just jumped on us.”
While the deficit was insurmountable, the Titans stayed in the game to put up a much better effort the remaining three quarters. The Del Norte standout continued to drain three’s and sink every single free throw, eventually finishing with 39 points, but the Titans improved as the game wore on with Aguirre knocking down three pointers and Joseph Cummins hitting midrange jumpers. Meanwhile, both Josh Merck and Murphy Smith were in place to grab rebounds, when they happened, given that Del Norte didn’t miss much.
The main highlight of the game, for either team, came in the waning seconds of the third quarter. Del Norte was on an 8-0 run but immediately following a basket, Aguirre took the inbounds and buried a shot three-quarters the length of the court at the buzzer.
Del Norte eased off the throttle for most of the fourth quarter and Hamilton rotated his total eight players on and off the court for quality minutes as Crested Butte fell 75-49.
Aguirre and Cummins led the Titans scoring 19 points each.
“We were able to adjust and we started doing a couple of things that worked,” says Hamilton. “It was nice to see Joseph and Jovany starting to have more consistency on offense and playing off of each other.”
The Titans then hit the road to face the Sargent Farmers on Saturday, January 27. Sargent is notorious for forcing a high-paced game and setting the tone with high-pressure defense the length of the court. Their style rattled the Titans early as Crested Butte quickly fell behind by 11 points but soon got their feet underneath them to start chipping away as Sargent’s lead.
Crested Butte had cut Sargent’s lead down to five points by halftime and then had the game tied up heading into the fourth quarter.
“The guys were great,” says Hamilton. “They made the right adjustments and it really made the difference in the game.”
Crested Butte continued to battle in the fourth quarter, tying the game with a minute left in regulation. Then a series of calls left the ball in the hands of Sargent with time dwindling. With seven seconds left, Sargent drove to the hoop only to have Cummins pick off the pass and head the other way with Aguirre. Another whistle sounds, Cummins is called for a reach in, and Sargent is at the line with a one-and-one and the game tied. The Farmer misses the first shot but a violation is called on the Titans and he gets another shot at the one-and-one with four seconds left. He misses the first shot again but Sargent gets the rebound to throw up a shot from NBA three-point land and have it drop through at the buzzer to hand the Titans a 58-55 loss.
Cummins led all scorers with 26 points with Triston Davis and Aguirre each adding in 11 points apiece.
“It was fantastic basketball,” says Hamilton. “It was disappointing to end up losing a game we could have won. It was a battle.”
While losing, especially a close game, is always tough, Hamilton is starting to see a light in the tunnel.
“I like the progress of the guys who are stepping in and the one thing they are picking up the fastest is, my ‘bigs’ are rebounding,” says Hamilton. “Josh, the whole weekend, was a monster on the boards and we’re slowly turning that into part of our game. We’re starting to come into shape.”
The Titans head to Cotopaxi on Thursday, February 1 and then return home to host the Sanford Indians in Mt. Olympus on Saturday, February 3; tip-off is at 4 p.m.