Sand Creek boys basketball's defense tightens up in top-five showdown

Sand Creek defenders prepare for an inbounds pass during the Scorpions win over Air Academy Friday night. (Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow)

Sand Creek defenders prepare for an inbounds pass during the Scorpions win over Air Academy Friday night. (Dan Mohrmann/CHSAANow.com)

COLORADO SPRINGS — Prior to the tip of Friday night's game between No. 6 Sand Creek and No. 3 Air Academy, Sand Creek coach Mark Bowers praised his team for their second half defense only two days earlier as they came from behind to beat Lewis-Palmer.

But in no way did he want be in the same situation again. But that's what had to happen for the Scorpions (7-3 overall, 2-0 4A Pikes Peak) as they beat the Cadets 65-53.

The Scorpions closed out their Wednesday win over the Rangers by allowing only 18 points in the final two quarters, a trend that Bowers hoped would carry over. But the Kadets (7-2, 1-1) decided to test it early, firing up three-pointers early and often. The first three baskets for Air Academy came from beyond the arc as Adam Brown connected on two and James Sims added one of his own.

"I told (my team) not to panic," Bowers said. "What we weren't doing was playing our defense. Our defense is a help side, close out hard, close out high and don't run and fly at shooters, but run at them hard."

After the first quarter, the Kadets held a 20-12 lead, putting a lot of pressure on the Scorpions' defense. They were able to respond in the second quarter, holding Air Academy to 13 points and only one three-point basket. To top off the solid defensive swing, the Scorpions managed to net 14 points and doing so by finding their own rhythm from long range.

But little did they know they were setting a trend with their second quarter defense. The Kadets led 33-26 at halftime, but were starting to struggle on the offensive side of the ball. When the teams went in at halftime, the Sand Creek coaching staff preached almost entirely on defense.

"We came into the locker room and they had 'No D' written on the board," Scorpions forward D'shawn Schwartz said. "We knew had to fix something and play hard when we came out after halftime."

Sand Creek owned the third quarter, outscoring Air Academy 18-13. But shots that had fallen early for the Kadets couldn't find their way into the basket. Sims, who led the Cadets in scoring with 13 going into the fourth quarter, missed shot after shot. To make matters worse for Air Academy, when they were able to make their way to the free throw line, those shots weren't falling either. In the final eight minutes, the Cadets were 5-12 from the charity stripe.

"We were awful from the line," Cadets coach Barry Clark said. "Flat out awful. We tried not to lose. We didn't try to win."

The Scorpions' defense had clamped down so tight that the Kadets could only muster one field goal in the fourth quarter, a breakaway layup from Sims with 1:56 remaining.

"Is that what it was," Bowers replied when asked out it. "I still think our defense wasn't as good as it could be (in that quarter). Believe it or not."

For the Kadets, once the final buzzer ended with the scoreboard reading 65-53, they had a short time to come to terms with the loss before having to look ahead to a Saturday match-up with Pueblo South.

"They can pout tonight if they want," Clark said. "But tomorrow we're back at it again."