AURORA — Friday night in a Centennial League clash between two top-five teams in Class 5A, Overland had a massive hole, literally and figuratively, in the paint as De'Ron Davis was out with a minor knee injury.
Eaglecrest, ranked No. 5 in the state, took advantage by overcoming early jitters and unleashing an explosive offensive attack in the second half to defeat No. 4 Overland, 66-54.
A season ago, the two Centennial powers split the season series, but a loss on Eaglecrest’s home court in the final regular season game of the year gave Overland (6-5, 1-1 5A Centennial) the conference crown over the second place Raptors (7-3, 2-0). It’s safe to say Eaglecrest enjoyed a bit of revenge Friday.
“Against Overland, it’s always fun to play these games,” senior point guard Elijah Ross said. “In three years, I don’t think we had beaten them on this court. It’s always a league contending game, so it means a lot.”
Early on, the two teams played with a nervous energy understandable in a game with major conference and tournament seeding implications.
At the end of the first, Eaglecrest led 11-9. At halftime, it was knotted at 21 as both teams struggled with turnovers and shooting. The Raptors shot 7/26 in the first half and had yet to hit a three-pointer. Overland wasn’t much better with an 8/30 clip and one made three.
“When you’re so amped up for a big game and such a great team and then when they see that De’Ron’s not playing, I just think that there’s a little bit of a letdown,” Eaglecrest coach John Olander admitted.
It’s fair to say Eaglecrest was into it in the third. The Raptors awoke and awoke in a hurry to the tune of 23 points in the third alone. They took a 44-39 lead headed into the final quarter.
Seniors Blend Avdili (10) and Elijah Ross (9), who racked up a combined 19 of the team’s 21 first-half points, continued their hot scoring in the second half, but suddenly got contributions from other weapons like Elijah’s outstanding sophomore brother, Colbey, and senior Peter Anderson.
The younger Ross, the team’s leading scorer headed into the game at just under 19 points per contest, went scoreless in the first half, but got in rhythm in the final 16 minutes with 10 points of his own.
Both players came through when Eaglecrest needed them and took pressure off Elijah Ross and Avdili. But, in the end it was Elijah and Avdili applying the pressure on Overland that wore down the short-handed Trailblazers late.
To kick off the fourth, Avdili — a versatile forward who can play inside and out — buried back-to-back triples to push the lead into double figures. Then, the senior Ross buried the hopes of Overland with every feathery free throw make. His 15 for 18 performance at the charity stripe, 19 points total (7 rebounds, 7 assists), to go with Avdili’s 24 points were enough to secure a satisfying win in front of a raucous home crowd.
Eaglecrest shot 14-22 from the field after halftime and scored 45 second half points as the Raptors were able to take advantage of Overland’s big missing piece in the paint with several layups.
“I think we’re better when we play in and out,” Avdili said. “Not having De’Ron there made it a little bit easier. When De’Ron’s not in there, you have to attack.”
Both teams know the competitive balance in 5A this season with a number of squads that may be state championship contenders.
“It is open, but we can’t get too far ahead of ourselves,” Olander said. “There’s a lot of good basketball teams, so it’s open but that means anyone can beat you on any given night. We want to become that machine that just keeps moving forward and not get too high and not get too low.”