LITTLETON — Monday night’s Class 5A boys basketball top-10 showdown turned into a defensive battle.
No. 7 Columbine and No. 8 Highlands Ranch showed off some good old-fashion defense for much of the night at Columbine High School. The third quarter proved to be the difference as the Rebels outscored the Falcons 17-5 after halftime on the way to a 49-36 victory.
It was the first defeat of the season for Highlands Ranch (4-1). Also, it was the second win for the Rebels over a ranked opponent. Columbine defeated No. 5 Overland 62-48 last week.
“Most of our focus has been on the defensive end,” Columbine coach Clay Thielking said after the Rebels improved to 3-0 on the season. “We are trying to figure things out and find an identity. They have done a good job so far.”
Highlands Ranch senior Tristan Hurdle was the lone Falcon able to make much of a dent in the Rebels’ defense. The Colorado State University-Pueblo commit scored a team-high 20 points.
“Tristan is a really good player,” Thielking said. “He is a tough cover. The shots he was making were though ones. We guarded him pretty well.”
Hurdle and Columbine senior Luke O’Brien proved to be an interesting early-season dual between two of the elite players in the state. O’Brien has already signed with the University of Colorado.
“Tristan is a really good player and he played amazing today. He knocked down some tough shots,” O’Brien said. “I always look forward to match-up against someone of his caliber. It was fun.”
O’Brien struggled from the field in the first half scoring only 5 points, but the experienced 6-foot-8 senior took over in the third quarter. He scored a dozen points, including a pair of 3-point plays the hard way getting fouled on drives to the paint.
“My shots weren’t falling and I knew I just had to do something for my team,” O’Brien said of his 12-point third quarter. “I just had to get to the basket, draw some fouls and hit some free throws.”
Columbine’s all-time leading scorer finished with 21 points. He was a perfect 8-for-8 from the free-throw line. In fact, the Rebels finished 10-for-10 from the charity stripe with junior Luke Garrelts making a pair late in the fourth quarter to help seal the win.
The Rebels’ outside shooting was there from Columbine trio of junior guards. Garrett Rogers, Tristan Alward and Jeff Potts combined for six 3-pointers on the night.
“They have worked a lot on it and they are confident,” Thielking said of Rogers, Alward and Potts. “I was proud of the ball movement and were the ball was getting. Those guys are capable and did a good job today.”
Rogers had 12 points, all on 3-pointers.
“That is what my main focus was,” Rogers said of working on his 3-point shooting. “Tonight my teammates just found me and I was knocking them down.”
Columbine still isn’t at 100 percent. Senior Justin Lohrenz is still nursing some injuries after the Rebels’ long football playoff run. The 6-foot-5 senior was one of the state’s most feared defensive ends totaling 17 sacks this season.
Lohrenz was on the bench Monday night, but Thielking expects him to be back on the court no later than after Winter Break.
“He (Lohrenz) is here, which is big for our team,” O’Brien said of Lohrenz, who is expected to sign to play football at Washington State University when the early National Letter of Intent Signing period begins Wednesday. “I don’t have to be the big or guard the big.”
At full strength, the Rebels should contend for their third straight 5A Jeffco League title. A longer playoff run rather than early-season rankings is also on Columbine’s mind.
“We don’t look at rankings,” said O’Brien, who added his main goal is going after a state title. “We were No. 9 last year and lost in the second round of the state tournament. We set the rankings aside and look toward the next game.”