LONGMONT -- Amid the myriad of things that can happen during a basketball game, free throws are possibly the most routine and, frankly, boring. But sometimes boorish routine is exactly what a team needs to win.
On Friday night, the Longmont High boys basketball team beat the Class 4A sixth-ranked Broomfield Eagles 56-44 despite trailing for the first three quarters and making four fewer field goals.
How did the Trojans pull it off? They shot 24 for 26 at the free-throw line.
"That's just from hard work coming in at lunch and shooting every day," said Trojans junior Austin Kemp, who went 9 for 9 in the fourth quarter. "We maybe take 50 free throws a day. It's not mandatory, but we come in during the day and get work in shooting free throws. They turned out to be huge in this game. They really saved us."
The Eagles led the entire first three quarters but the Trojans never trailed by more than five points. Down 34-33 to start the fourth quarter, the Trojans opened the final frame with a 6-0 run to take the lead for good.
Kemp, who scored all of his game-high 17 points in the second half, and freshman guard Justinian Jessup combined to make 16 of their 17 free-throw attempts in the fourth quarter.
"With 26 free-throws, you're always going to win no matter what," said Jessup, who finished with 15 points. "We were going great tonight drawing contact, and they were reaching a little bit and the refs were calling it. You've gotta take it when they give it to you."
The Eagles trounced the Trojans 57-41 in the Northern Conference rivals' first meeting on Jan. 15. The Trojans were slumping at that time and Jessup said they did a poor job defensively, particularly in transition.
When the Eagles jumped out to a quick 8-3 lead that included a pair of uncontested dunks, it appeared Friday's game would be a repeat of January's one-sided contest. But Jessup said the Trojans, who have won eight of their nine games since Jan. 15, turned up the defensive intensity, switched up their looks and kept the Eagles off-balance to outscore them 23-10 in the fourth quarter.
"We knew there were little things we needed to fix like shore up our defensive pressure and finish out shots," Trojans senior Marcus Johnson said. "We pulled it off in this game. Part of it was just playing physical. If we got fouls called, we erased it. You've gotta keep playing hard no matter what."
Johnson, who had seven points and five rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter, said the game was a signature win for the Trojans, who currently sit in third place in the Northern Conference behind the league-leading Eagles and Thompson Valley. The senior forward pointed to the Trojans, who have 10 underclassmen on the roster, learning to handle pressure as the biggest key to their recent success
Senior point guard Felipe Alaniz led the Trojans, who trailed 22-20 at halftime, with five first-half points.
Six-foot freshman forward Eli Sullivan, who was particularly disruptive in the fourth quarter, finished with five rebounds and two steals and paced the Trojans at the defensive end on Friday night.
"This was definitely a big win for us in terms of playoff seeding and momentum," Sullivan said. "We brought the energy tonight and that's all we wanted to do. We did everything we could to make it tough on them."
Friday's loss was the Eagles' first in Northern Conference play. Senior forward Dan Perse, who led the Eagles with 11 points, said they will be more focused when they host second-place Thompson Valley (13-9, 8-2) on Tuesday.
"In the fourth quarter, we started going too fast and making some turnovers and getting some dumb fouls that we didn't need," Perse said. "They definitely capitalized on the free-throws. We definitely came out strong and maybe we thought that was enough. We definitely didn't finish the game.
"We played two good quarters, maybe. They definitely had a bitter taste in their mouth from the last game. We came in here like we were going to trump them like we did last time and it wasn't enough. They definitely wanted it more tonight."
Broomfield's Spencer Reeb scored 10 points, Evan Kihn scored nine and Alec McLain pitched in eight.
The Trojans will host rival Skyline (6-13, 3-8 Tri-Valley League) in a non-conference tilt on Saturday.
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Longmont 56, Broomfield 44
At Longmont HS
BROOMFIELD (15-4, 9-1)
Jukkala 2 0-0 4, Macrae 0 0-1 0, Perse 4 3-6 11, Reeb 5 0-1 10, Kihn 2 5-5 9, McLain 4 0-0 8, Hull 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 8-13 44.
LONGMONT (14-4, 7-3)
Alaniz 1 2-2 5, Sterkel 2 0-0 5, Jessup 3 7-8 15, Donaldson 0 2-2 2, Kemp 4 9-9 17, Sullivan 1 3-4 5, Johnson 3 1-1 7. Totals 14 24-26 56.
Score by quarters:
Broomfield 12 10 12 10 -- 44
Longmont 8 12 13 23 -- 56
3-point field goals -- Broomfield (0): None; Longmont (4): Jessup 2, Alaniz, Sterkel. Fouled out -- Jukkala, Johnson. Technical fouls -- None.