LITTLETON — Columbine senior Luke O’Brien wasn’t happy sitting on the bench before the start of the second half Friday night.
The Rebels — No. 7 in the current CHSAANow.com Class 5A boys basketball rankings — were clinging to a 30-28 halftime lead against area-rival Dakota Ridge. The future University of Colorado hoopster did something about it.
“I was just staring at the ground and picturing myself just taking over,” O’Brien said about what was going through his mind before the start of the third quarter. “Sometimes that all it takes.”
O’Brien took over scoring a dozen points in the first three minutes of the second half to bolt Columbine (17-3, 5-1 in 5A Jeffco League) out to nearly a double-digit lead. The Rebels pulled away in the fourth quarter to take a 68-48 home victory over the Eagles.
“He is so good,” Dakota Ridge coach Sean Kovar said of O’Brien. “For us he was basically unguardable. We threw a bunch of different looks and guys at him. He is a stud.”
The senior finished with 34 points. The second highest scoring output of the season for O’Brien. His season-high is 38 points scored against Poudre back before Winter Break.
“I had to get our team going. We were kind of slow at the beginning,” O’Brien said. “Whatever the team needs … that’s what I’m there for.”
Senior Jeff Potts, along with juniors Tristan Alward and Garrett Rogers combined for 26 points to help Columbine out offensively. The Rebels were shorthanded with senior center Justin Lohrenz not in the line-up.
“We’ve played without J-Lo (Justin Lohrenz) before. He is obviously a big missing piece,” Alward said of Lohrenz, who is expected to be back on the court next Wednesday when the Rebels are at Arvada West. “It’s just grit, focusing on the defensive end, finding open shots and get Luke O’Brien downhill. We found a way.”
While O’Brien scored 23 points in the second half, Dakota Ridge (9-12, 4-2) could only muster up 20 points after hanging with Columbine through the first half.
Junior Taeshaud Jackson Jr. scored a team-high 16 points, including an impressive breakaway dunk for the Eagles' lone field goal in the fourth quarter. Senior Brayden Rhoads contributed 14 points in the second straight conference loss after starting 4-0 in league play.
“Defensively they were awesome,” Kovar said. “They took us out of what we like to do. They played better than us tonight.”
Columbine coach Clay Thielking agreed that defense is what turned it around in the second half.
“We challenge them as a group to toughen it up on defense and dig a little deeper,” Thielking said of the talk at halftime. “I thought our defense was the key. That led to some offense on the other end. I though Luke had a good night.”
Despite a 7-game winning streak, Columbine still doesn’t control its own destiny when it comes to claiming a second straight 5A Jeffco League championship. It was a logjam atop the conference standings before action Friday night.
No. 5 Ralston Valley, No. 7 Columbine, No. 8 Valor Christian, Dakota Ridge and Arvada West all had just one loss in conference play with the end of the league season in sight. There are still several different scenarios heading into the final week of the regular season.
Dakota Ridge is likely out of the mix for a league title, but Kovar knows it’s important to close strong before the playoffs.
“We are just worried about Ralston Valley on Wednesday,” Kovar said. “It’s all about RV and they are another great team.”
The Rebels close out their regular season with a non-league home game against Douglas County on Monday before league games at Arvada West (Wednesday) and at home against Chatfield (Friday).
“It’s going to be a really tough week. Those are three really good teams,” Thielking said. “You want to be healthy going into the (state) tournament and riding some momentum going into it.”
Despite the chance to have a 20-win regular season, O’Brien believes Columbine hasn’t peaked yet when it comes to its play on the court.
“I think we have a lot more in us,” O’Brien said. “We didn’t shoot the ball well tonight. We turned the ball over on careless mistakes. Our ceiling is still up there. We haven’t hit our full potential. Come playoff time we are going to be there.”