MONUMENT — Bill Benton couldn't help but smile as he stood on Lewis-Palmer's gym floor after the game. His top-ranked boys basketball team had just beaten a very good Pueblo South team 79-62.
The reality of just how good the Rangers are is starting to hit him.
"This is a fun bunch to coach," he said.
And they're having fun playing. The Rangers hosted South in a game that many believe could be a playoff preview. The sides were evenly matched early with the Rangers (6-0 overall) jumping out a quick lead.
But the Colts battled back and were able to pull even a few times. As it had on the football field all year, South was reliant on forwards Marcell Barbee and Jeremy Cody. At halftime, the Colts (6-2) trailed 36-30 and the duo had combined for two-thirds of the scoring effort.
That changed drastically in the third quarter.
Led by Matthew Ragsdale, the Rangers offense found consistent ways to score, but the defense had clamped down and held the Colts to just seven points. South didn't even make a shot from the field until there was 3:30 left on the clock in the third and David Caporicci knocked down a 3-pointer.
"If we rotate and use our system we're in position to take charges," Raggsdale said. "They're aggressive going towards the basket so if we're just in the right position we make the plays."
While the Colts weren't scoring in the third, Lewis-Palmer was getting plenty of buckets. Ragsdale scored nine of his game-high 29 in that stretch. His ability to attack and score helped open up his teammates to chances as well. In total, four Rangers scored in double figures on Thursday, including Joel Scott who quietly totaled 20.
For South, Cody led with 19 and Barbee added 16.
The Rangers showed that if their offense is in sync and the defense is able to limit the playmakers' ability to create scoring opportunities, they won't be on the losing end of a lot of games this year.
"You're not going to beat Lewis-Palmer on their home floor many times no matter how well you play," South coach D.J. Johnson said. "They've got their stuff together pretty good and they're the No. 1 team in the state for a reason."
Even if it's just mid-December, a win against a team like South can make everyone wonder just what the team is capable of in the coming months.
Defense naturally tend to focus their attention on Scott, but when Ragsdale is scoring 20-plus points, which he has now done three times this season, opportunities open for everyone and the Rangers are disciplined enough to capitalize on them.
"It makes us very dangerous," Scott said. "People don't know what to do when we have so many offensive threats."
Sporting four new starters from last year's runner-up team, it's been an ideal start for Benton's boys. They've gelled quickly and jumped out to a start that is forcing everyone to pay attention.
This is not a result that simply happens overnight. Benton knows that success comes with the work that each member of the team puts in not just during game time, but in practice as well.
"These guys do a great job of following the blue print that was laid before them," Benton said. "They understand that our practices are very competitive. Guys are going at each other and holding each other accountable to it."
Lewis-Palmer will now coast into the holiday break on practices only. The Colts will have three chances to regain their momentum with upcoming games against Ponderosa, Holy Family and Windsor.