NIWOT -- Perhaps it was only fitting that Friday night's Niwot-Centaurus boys basketball game be settled the way it was.
In a matchup of the bottom two teams from the 4A Northern League, neither squad seemed to know how to win.
Niwot, depleted by sickness, ended up with a 56-53 home victory, but only after frittering away most of the 13-point lead it held halfway through the fourth quarter.
And Centaurus, which hasn't won since Dec. 11, let a good opportunity for a big comeback victory slip through its grasp in an awkward way.
After the Warriors had crept within 56-53 and then forced a turnover in the final 20 seconds, they apparently tied the game when Steven Jordan drained a 3-pointer from the right corner.
But that was before one of the officials animatedly waved off the trey, signaling that CHS coach Brandon Gullicksrud had called a timeout before the ball left Jordan's hands.
Centaurus couldn't re-create the magic in the final 12 seconds after the timeout, and Lance Matosky's 3-point attempt just before the buzzer bounced off the back rim to send the Warriors to their 14th loss in a row.
"The guys battled and they made plays, but the way it played out, this is one I'll ruminate over for a while," said Gullicksrud, who's in his first season as CHS' head coach. On the pivotal possession "it looked like we were kind of hung up and didn't have a look that was going to develop, so I called the timeout there. Clearly, in retrospect, we would have let it play out. ... I'm certainly going to think about this one for quite a while.
"It's been hard losing certainly, and tonight is going to be a really tough one to swallow."
On the other hand, Niwot breathed a sigh of relief after having such a close call after leading 53-40 in the middle of the fourth.
"We were just trying to keep our composure," said senior Forrest Lee, who led the Cougars with 15 points. "We had quite a few turnovers (five in roughly the last two minutes) that turned into (Centaurus) buckets, but we managed to keep the lead and get the win."
Niwot coach Travis Maron, whose team (8-13, 3-9 in league) has won three of its last four after being 5-12, was just happy to fend off Centaurus (3-18, 0-12). In playing just six men due to flu and bronchitis, the Cougars had just enough to eke out the win, beating Centaurus for the fifth straight time.
Niwot led all the way from the end of the first quarter on, but that didn't mean much when it turned into a nail-biter at the end.
"It was just one of those weird things where you look up and say, 'Wow. It's really close,'" Maron said. "It wasn't pretty by any means, those last four minutes of the game, but we scratched it out."
As usual, Niwot did it with a balanced attack. The Cougars' top five scorers for the season average within 1.5 points of one another. And on Friday, joining Lee in double figures were Kyle Kolakowski (12 points), and Nate Merriman and Clarke Colwell (11 apiece).
Juniors Trey Puckett (16 points) and Kyle Taudien (11) provided the spark for Centaurus, particularly late in the game.
With the victory -- and its late-season surge -- Niwot may have kept alive its hopes of making the state playoffs.
"To have any shot, we probably need to win Tuesday" at home against Greeley Central, Maron said. "We've been up and down and had our struggles, but hopefully we've done enough down the stretch to give ourselves at least a shot."
In the final week of the regular season, besides hosting Greeley Central on Tuesday, the Cougars will be at league-leading Broomfield on Friday. Centaurus will host Broomfield Tuesday and play at Greeley Central on Friday.
Niwot 56, Centaurus 53
At Niwot HS
CENTAURUS (3-18, 0-12)
Matosky 1 2-2 5, Puckett 6 3-5 16, Taudien 5 1-2 11, Jordan 2 2-3 7, DeVries 4 0-1 8, Lopez 1 0-0 3, Milano 0 2-2 2, Wilkinson 0 0-0 0, Koch 0 1-2 1. Totals 19 11-17 53.
NIWOT (8-13, 3-9)
Hart 1 0-0 3, Lee 6 2-4 15, Merriman 2 6-8 11, Kolakowski 4 3-6 12, Colwell 5 0-0 11, Bounds 2 0-0 4. Totals 20 11-18 56.
Score by quarters:
Centaurus 6 19 7 21 -- 53
Niwot 12 21 9 14 -- 56
3-point field goals -- Centaurus (4): Lopez, Matosky, Jordan, Puckett; Niwot (5): Hart, Lee, Merriman, Kolakowski, Colwell. Total fouls -- Centaurus 14, Niwot 13. Fouled out --none. Technical foul -- Jordan.