LAKEWOOD — Far Northeast boys basketball wanted nothing to do with a 3-game losing streak heading into the Class 5A state tournament that begins next week.
“I told the boys this was a playoff game,” Warriors’ coach David Bennett said after Far Northeast pulled off a 63-58 road victory Monday night against Lakewood. “I’m so proud of them for stepping up to the plate and get that victory.”
Monday was the final regular-season game for Far Northeast (16-7, 4-4 in 5A/4A Denver Prep League). The Warriors were coming off back-to-back 1-point losses to Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson.
The turning point for the Warriors was a strong second quarter where they outscored Lakewood 21-6 to grab a 31-22 halftime lead.
“It’s not surprising when we aren’t running a good offense and not defending,” Lakewood coach Daryl Johnson said of the disastrous second quarter for the Tigers. “I tell them all the time if they want things to end well you have to defend first. If you don’t defend first it’s going to be a long night. It was tonight.”
The Tigers (15-6, 9-3) finally started hitting some shots in the final 90 seconds of the game while trailing by a dozen. Lakewood senior Kolton Peterson hit back-to-back 3-pointers with under a minute to play and a driving layup by senior Dallas Bailey cut the Warriors’ lead to 61-58 with 18 seconds to play.
However, Far Northeast senior Aaris Bonds made a pair of free throws with 15 seconds left the seal the victory.
“It was about leadership,” Bonds said of making the key shots from the charity stripe after missing four straight. “Taking my team home.”
Far Northeast got good scoring balance with senior Russell Wilkerson coming off the bench for a team-high 16 points. Juniors Steven Goss and Malik Fofana finished with a dozen each. Bonds had 10 points.
“Everyone is depending on each other and the team is coming together at the right time,” Bennett said. “Lakewood is a good test. To pull this out at Lakewood, I’m so proud of the boys. This gets the momentum going.”
Far Northeast had a 7-3 record in its final 10 games, but the three losses were all single-digit losses to Thomas Jefferson, Lincoln and Denver East. The Warriors now wait to discover their path through the playoffs when the 5A state bracket is released Sunday, Feb. 19.
“I’m really confident in my team,” Bonds said. “I feel like we have a chance to do something big this year.”
Lakewood is still position to finish second in the 5A Jeffco League behind Chatfield (20-1, 12-0). The Chargers are No. 3 in the CHSAANow.com rankings while holding the longest winning steak in 5A at 19 games.
The Tigers have been on a rollercoaster ride this season. Lakewood played No. 1 ThunderRidge to overtime and defeated No. 8 Denver East handedly. However, the Tigers were swept by Chatfield in both league contests and suffered a last-second loss to Ralston Valley a few weeks ago.
“It was definitely not a good one to lose tonight. It was frustrating,” Peterson said. “I think we’ll bounce back these last two league games and get going again.”
The regular season for Lakewood ends with road games at Bear Creek (Tuesday) and Dakota Ridge (Thursday).
“That locker room isn’t very jovial right now,” Johnson said. “We’ll just have to figure it out tomorrow. Winning cures a lot of stuff, it gets you more optimistic for playoffs and that is what we need to do.”
Lakewood entered Monday’s game sitting at No. 16 in the RPI standings. The 16th spot is key with the top 16 seeds for the 48-team state tournament earning a first-round bye for the big dance that begins next week.
“It’s been kind of up and down,” Peterson said describing the Tigers’ season that had high expectations with plenty of senior experience. “I still think we can make a run no matter what seed we get.”