HIGHLANDS RANCH — D’Evelyn senior Grant Witherspoon went with his gut instinct Thursday night.
With under six minutes to play in a back-and-forth Class 4A Jeffco League battle against Valor Christian, ranked No. 7 in the CHSAANow.com 4A boys hoops poll, the Jaguars’ four-year varsity player decided to take over.
“I just do whatever the team needs me to do,” Witherspoon said after D’Evelyn took a 52-50 victory against Valor. “Right there (fourth quarter) I just felt like it was my moment to put the team on my back.”
Witherspoon scored 11 straight points in a span of three minutes to lead D’Evelyn (11-5, 7-1 4A Jeffco) to the upset victory against the Eagles (10-5, 6-2). The senior finished with a game-high 26 points, scoring half of the Jaguars’ points on the night.
“Grant was awesome,” D’Evelyn coach Troy Pachner said of the Jaguars’ leading scorer. “When the game is on the line you want your guy to do it. He did it on both ends. He was solid.”
Despite Witherspoon’s effort, Valor still had a chance in the final seconds to win or at least send the game into overtime.
Valor sophomore Jalen Sanders, who had a team-high 18 points for the Eagles, stepped to the free-throw line with 5.6 seconds left and Valor trailing 51-49. Sanders made the first three throw. His second one was good, but a referee called a lane violation on Valor to negate the free throw and keep the lead in D’Evelyn’s hands.
D’Evelyn junior Jack Draeb was immediately fouled with 4.6 seconds left. He missed the first of two, but sunk the second to put the Jaguars ahead 52-50. The Eagles had one last mad dash to the basket, but Valor senior Sid Turnbull-Frazier’s shot at the buzzer didn’t fall.
“Valor is absolutely one of the top five teams in the state,” Pachner said. “To come into their house and have a victory, you feel great about it.”
What Valor couldn’t feel great about was its free-throw shooting in the final quarter. The Eagles’ inside power game yield 15 trips to the charity stripe in the final quarter, but Valor was just 4-for-15 from the line in the final eight minutes.
“We’ve missed plenty (free throws) this year so maybe it’s a little karma,” Pachner said of Valor’s struggles at the line.
For the past five seasons either D’Evelyn or Valor has lifted the 4A Jeffco League boys basketball championship plaque. D’Evelyn has won the league title four out of the previous five seasons. Valor grabbed the conference title in 2011.
The Eagles returned to the 4A Jeffco League for the current two-year cycle this season after playing as an independent the past two years. At the midway point of the league schedule the Jaguars and Eagles find themselves chasing conference-leading Golden, ranked No. 2.
“It’s going to be a real interesting final week of the season to see how things work out,” Pachner said.
In a new format this season, the top two teams in each of the two divisions of the 4A Jeffco League we face each other to determine the conference champion. D’Evelyn will likely face both Golden and Valor a second time before the start of the postseason.
“We’ll keep it going until we meet the Goldens and Valors of the world again,” Witherspoon said. “We aren’t the underdogs anymore.”
D’Evelyn doesn’t waste any time getting back onto the court. The Jaguars travel to Arvada High School for a 7 p.m. tipoff Friday, Jan. 30.
Valor has a key showdown on the road at Golden (14-2, 8-0) this Saturday, Jan. 31. Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. The Demons edge the Eagles 46-44 on Valor’s home court back on Jan. 10.