NIWOT -- In a game in which there was precious little room for error, the Niwot boys basketball team paid the price for faltering down the stretch Wednesday night.
The Cougars led by three with less than 21/2 minutes remaining, but three turnovers and two missed shots on their next five possessions gave Lincoln just enough opening to escape the Niwot gym with a 58-57 victory.
With the game featuring 10 ties and 12 lead changes, it didn't take much to decide the contest, and after NHS' late drought, not even two 3-pointers by Cody Heimann in the final 10 seconds could rescue the Cougars.
"When you get to the fourth quarter, you can't hope that you win, you can't want to win, you have to go make it happen," Niwot coach Travis Maron said.
Lincoln, which has undergone a major makeover since going to the 5A state quarterfinals last season, ran off eight consecutive points after trailing by three in the final 21/2 minutes. A freshman, Michael Sparks, went 6-for-6 from the foul line in 1-and-1 situations in the final 30 seconds to put the game out of reach. Sparks ended up 10 of 10 from the free-throw stripe and scored a team-high 18 points.
That and a banked-in halfcourt shot by sophomore Isaiah Gallegos at the end of the third quarter ended up being major difference-makers.
"You've got to give them credit; they hit their free throws down the stretch," said Heimann, who scored a game-high 24 points for Niwot, including 10 in the fourth quarter. "It's a tough loss though."
The defeat dropped the Cougars to 1-4 ahead of their pre-winter break finale Friday at Bear Creek. Lincoln improved to 3-4.
"We absolutely think we're better than 1-4 now," Heimann said. "We have a lot of talent. We still see great things coming the rest of the season. It's just a rough start."
Despite Lincoln having a 7-foot player (Thomas Giles) and one 6-9 (Gabriel Vazquez), Niwot challenged the Lancers inside. Sometimes it paid off after several shots under the basket, but often it proved fruitless -- like the time NHS attempted seven shots in one possession without hitting the mark. For the game, the Cougars shot just 30 percent from the field (19 of 63).
But Niwot was also pretty stingy defensively, keeping Lincoln to 20-for-54 field-goal accuracy (37 percent).
"It was really, really hard-fought," Lancers coach Vince Valdez said. "Niwot kept us on our heels and they didn't let us get a rhythm all night."
The Cougars led by as many as six points in the third period, at 39-33, but couldn't shake Lincoln.
"It was the little things" that took their toll, Maron said. "The fourth quarter is where you steal games or you give them away. We had some silly turnovers at times, some careless shots, and gave up a couple of offensive rebounds. Those things are really huge. We didn't handle those things very well and it came back to bite us."
Lincoln 58, Niwot 57
At Niwot HS
Muniz 4 0-0 10, Sparks 4 10-10 18, Dotson 3 2-2 8, Vazquez 6 0-0 12, Giles 1 2-2 5, Bridgette 0 0-0 0, Vigil 0 0-2 0, Rich 0 0-2 0, Gallegos 2 0-0 5. Totals 20 14-18 58.
Merriman 1 0-0 2, Kinnison 2 4-4 8, Sebesta 3 4-7 10, Heimann 10 2-6 24, Ogez 3 5-6 11, Janzen 0 2-2 2, McCaddon 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 17-25 57.
Score by quarters:
Lincoln 10 18 14 16 -- 58
Niwot 14 13 16 14 -- 57
3-point field goals -- Lincoln (4): Muniz 2, Giles, Gallegos; Niwot (2): Heimann 2. Total fouls -- Lincoln 17, Niwot 20. Fouled out -- Merriman, Sebesta. Technical fouls -- none.