LONGMONT — Jalen Sanders had an 'it-doesn't-matter' kind of night for the Valor Christian boys basketball team on Tuesday. In fact, his third-quarter performance against Mead in the return to the court for both teams from winter break was downright masterful.
In terms of defensive rotations to try and keep the senior wing player — who has a future in Division I basketball, mind you — outside his comfort zone, it simply didn't matter. He seemed comfortable everywhere, and his 19 third-quarter points and 33 overall helped Class 4A fourth-ranked Valor Christian defeat No. 6 Mead 79-53 at the Mead gym.
Inside the paint and outside, Sanders had the flair that he's shown on many occasions as one of Colorado's best hoopsters, making for a sour start to the new calendar year for Mead (7-2). A start, however, the Mavericks hope to learn from as they begin Tri-Valley League play still in good, if not great, shape.
"(Sanders) is a stud who can create his own shots and works for his teammates, and when he puts the ball on the floor his teammates move well and he'll find them if he doesn't have the shot," said Mead coach Darin Reese, who saw his team commit 21 turnovers. "We just haven't seen that type of player all year, and it's good for us to see how much better we need to get with our rotations.
"It was a great game for us to get better."
The matchup against the Eagles, last year's 4A runner-up, was regarded as having great potential coming right out of the gates in 2017. Mead's offense had been cooking (74.1 points per game) while Valor had seen plenty of elite competition but still had Sanders (averaging 19.5 points), Kayle Knuckles (15.8) and Dylan McCaffrey (10.4) playing at a high level.
Mead never got into a great rhythm, scoring just nine points in the first quarter and getting its best run of the game mid-way through the second stanza — an 8-2 spurt helped by two Alex Sandstrom 3-pointers that brought MHS back from 23-13 down to 25-21.
Valor stretched its halftime lead to 31-24, and an 8-0 run to start the third quarter provided at 15-point cushion before Sanders really got going.
And when he did, he didn't miss, making all seven of his field goal attempts and four free throws for a 19-point quarter.
Knuckles added 16 points and 11 rebounds for Valor, who improved to 6-3.
"We came into the game knowing who was their scorers, knowing we needed to guard well, and first half we did pretty good but second half we gave up some drive-kicks that killed us," said Sandstrom, who paced Mead with 15 points. "Losing by that much, it just shows how much harder we need to work before the games get here. Come playoffs, we need to be more ready."
"In the first half, I thought we did a pretty good job of getting to the basket but we didn't have a lot of second opportunities," Reese said. "In so many instances defensively we were just a step slow. I don't think we moved the ball as well as we normally do tonight, either. Just a number of things we didn't do so well."
Despite making just 6 of 17 field goals, Michael Ward still finished with 12 points for Mead. The Mavericks made just five 3-pointers, typically an area where they excel, as well.
They'll try and rebound Friday at Erie.
Valor Christian 79, Mead 53
At Mead HS
VALOR CHRISTIAN (6-3)
L. McCaffrey 2 1-1 5, Randle 0 0-0 0, Ioley 0 2-2 2, Knuckles 8 0-0 16, Crosby 4 1-2 9, Remus 3 0-0 8, Shane 0 0-0 0, Michael 2 0-0 4, Wilson 0 0-0 0, Sanders 11 9-10 33, Haag 0 0-0 0, Smith 0 0-0 0, Sherman 1 0-0 2. Totals 31 13-15 79.
Cheung 2 4-7 8, Kastratovic 1 0-0 3, Brin 1 0-0 2, Ward 6 0-4 12, Lee 1 0-0 2, Edwards 3 0-0 6, Sandstrom 5 2-2 15, Rice 0 0-0 0, Cloke 2 0-0 5. Totals 21 6-12 53.
Score by quarters:Valor Christian 17 14 30 18 — 79
Mead 9 15 10 19 — 53
3-point field goals — Valor Christian (4): Sanders 2, Remus 2; Mead (5): Sandstrom 3, Kastratovic, Cloke.