DENVER — Intensity along with aggression were the determining factors in game one of a double-header hosted at Denver South High School Friday night, as the Class 4A boys state basketball playoffs began.
No. 3 seeded Vista PEAK Prep (18-5 overall) took on No. 6 Thompson Valley Friday night and the Bison came out with the intent to send a message to the rest of this year’s tournament competitors as they cruised to a 62-45 win over the Eagles (16-7).
From the game’s opening tip, Vista PEAK looked to be on a mission to dominate in the gritty areas of the game as defensively, their pressure on the wings caused an abundance of Eagle turnovers. On the other end of the floor, the Bison man-handled Thompson Valley on the glass as second and third chances were a frequent occurrence.
“The start of the game kind of set the pace for the whole game. We had some good opportunities in the beginning and I just think we didn’t take advantage of them,” Thompson Valley coach Josh Robinson said. "That’s just how the whole game went, we’d make a little run then stub our toe and turn it over and then they’d make a run. We were just never able to find a rhythm offensively.”
The second quarter is when the Bison started to assert absolute control of the game as their press suffocated the Thompson Valley guards each possession down. Countless number of passes we either deflected or errantly thrown out of bounds as they aggression nullified any impact from the Eagles’ backcourt.
“We knew that if we put pressure on their guards, they weren’t going to handle the ball,” sophomore Te’Rae Johnson said. “When we watched film on them, they didn’t handle pressure well so our coach told us to pressure them and that’s what we did.”
For a brief moment to start the second half, it seemed as if Thompson Valley would mount a comeback of sorts as the Eagles nailed a three to ring in the third, followed by a few admirable defensive stands. But then the Bison’s star sophomore guard, Te’Rae Johnson took command of the contest offensively.
“I just let it come to me, I had a couple of bad shots I know that,” Johnson said. “I tried to get everyone involved today and tried to keep hitting Tre (junior Tre Early) every time I was attacking.
Johnson had his way practically every time he touched the ball, whether it was knifing through the defense for smooth mid-range daggers or breaking away in transition for easy buckets.
(2) Denver South 66, (7) Mitchell 61
In a surprising turn of events, the host team for the evening seemed to have its work cut out for them in the first round.
Denver South advanced to play one more game on its home floor, but the 66-61 win over Mitchell was anything but a cruise.
The game was a rollercoaster throughout, as both teams slumped simultaneously in quarters, but picked up the energy later on. After three quarters, the Rebels held a slim 46-44 lead.
Fortunately for the Rebels (18-6 overall), they were able to retain their lead until the final horn sounded thanks to clutch shots from junior Tucker Cargile, who finished the night with 16 points, all but four of them coming from 3-pointers.
The Marauders (10-14) had a chance to tie the game down 64-61 with 45 seconds remaining, but senior guard David Perea couldn’t cash in on the 3-pointer.
With Friday night’s win, Denver South will advance in the tournament to play Vista PEAK Saturday at 4 p.m.