WHEAT RIDGE — Wheat Ridge’s boys basketball team has proved several times already this season it doesn’t mind facing a double-digit deficit.
The Farmers trailed by 10 points early in the second quarter in a Class 4A Jeffco League opener against Green Mountain on Thursday night. Wheat Ridge (7-2 record, 1-0 in league) didn’t take its first lead until junior Alex Morales buried a turnaround jumper with less than three minutes to play in the third quarter.
“We just had to grind it out and decide we weren’t going to lose this game,” said Morales, who scored a game-high 19 points in the Farmers’ 62-56 come-from-behind victory. “We are trying to win league. We had to have this game.”
A huge play came with under a minute to play. Wheat Ridge senior Julian Claussen was able to deflect a Rams’ pass and grab the steal. Claussen fired a pass ahead to Morales for a breakaway layup to extend the Farmers’ lead to 58-55 with 48 seconds to play.
“It was a good feeling after the free-throw violation,” Morales said of his lone field goal in the fourth quarter after he stepped over the free-throw line seconds earlier. “It was working as a team with Julian seeing me open.”
Wheat Ridge’s leading scorer — Claussen — was a non-factor through the first half. However, he turned that all around in the second half. The senior scored 14 points in the second half, including the Farmers’ first 10 points in the final quarter over the span of three minutes.
“I just wasn’t aggressive, doing a good job going to the hoop or rebounding,” Claussen said of his scoreless first half. “Second half I decided to get to the rim. That really changed it.”
Wheat Ridge coach Tommy Dowd felt Claussen was a mismatch defensively for Green Mountain. The Farmers posted up Claussen several times down the stretch.
“Julian really answered the bell in the fourth quarter,” Dowd said. “I told him that he was just stopping himself. There wasn’t anyone out there who could stop him. When he wants to go he is pretty effective.”
Senior Blair McVicker had a strong second half too for Wheat Ridge. McVicker finished with 16 points, including a big 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.
“Coming back from the break you never know what you are going to get,” Dowd said. “Your shot isn’t on. We had guys who couldn’t make free throws. We could have made it a lot easier.”
Wheat Ridge overcame missing a dozen free throws in the second half.
“1-0 to start league is really all I care about,” Claussen said. “It feels real good.”
Green Mountain (3-9, 0-1) was led by juniors Trey Towndrow (17 points), Blake Schell (13 points) and Matt Schlieper (12 points) in what was the Rams’ seventh straight loss.
Green Mountain coach Mike Puccio said after the loss that he felt his team worked hard during the winter break in an attempt to pull off the upset to open conference play.
“Overall to play, arguably the best team in the league, the way we did it’s something to build upon,” Puccio said. “To be honest, I think we let one slip away tonight.”
Green Mountain stays on the road to face Standley Lake at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Wheat Ridge opens the New Year with five straight home games. The Farmers host Littleton at 1 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 5, to continue conference play.
“You can only hide for so long,” Dowd said of the Farmers looking like a front-runner for the league title. “At some point you have to step out and say we can win it (league). Every night is going to be tough. These guys have worked really hard and I’m glad they are getting some recognition.”