DENVER - It was, in a word, rough, and probably resembled more of an opening game of the season than a first-round playoff game.
"It was," Thomas Jefferson coach Grant Laman agreed. And his team won.
TJ's Spartans ultimately outlasted Erie 52-36 on Wednesday night in the preliminaries of the Class 4A playoffs. TJ advances to take on top-seeded and 2016 runner-up Valor Christian in Highlands Ranch on Saturday at 7 p.m.
The middle matchup of a 64-slot outlay for a 48-team field (plus byes) - Erie was No. 33 and TJ 32 - came with assorted likes and dislikes.
Both teams entered the game with 11-12 records.
There were a combined 45 turnovers, 27 by the Tigers.
The Spartans had multiple opportunities to run way and hide ... and didn't until the final 3 minutes.
Erie did not make a basket in the second quarter. The Tigers scored seven points on 7-of-9 free throws and were 0-of-7 shooting in field goals, one more than they had turnovers.
And despite scoring just seven points in each of the second and fourth quarters, the Tigers didn't succumb until TJ's superior defensive pressure kicked in late.
"It sucks," 6-foot-9 Erie senior Cameron McCurry said. In agreeing that he and his guys certainly played hard enough, they weren't smart with the ball and didn't shoot it well enough.
It was a lot to ask from a team that won only twice a year ago and improved in most areas
"I think it was a first-round playoff game for a 2-21 team from last year that had nerves and tried to fight through it," second-year Erie coach Scott Melin said. "We never gave up and got it down to a four-point game."
However, TJ, behind Ravel Moody and Deveon Carter put it away. Moody, in particular, was very active on defense and the Tigers eventually wilted against it, though not for lack of effort.
"We tried to prepare for their pressure, we watched film on them for two days," McCurry said. "We watched their Aurora Central game and it was probably 30 turnovers they forced ... we tried to replicate it in practice. I just don't think we were ready for the intensity of the game, it was something different, for sure."
The Spartans, who started their season 2-9 after several players were suspended, have won 10 of their past 13 games and showed well in losses to the likes of 5A's George Washington and ever-present Denver East. Their own offensive inadequacies were smoothed over by their defense, including under the basket.
Erie just couldn't answer and shot just 12-of-42 from the floor. Only four Tigers scored, headed by McCurry's 13 and Jeffrey Farineau's 10. Moody led all scorers with 16 and Carter contributed 11, including three 3-pointers in the second half.
However, a junior-dominated Tigers team will lose only four seniors. Another turn-around, Melin said, is on the radar.
"I couldn't be more proud of them," the coach said.
THOMAS JEFFERSON 52, ERIE 36
Erie 10 7 12 7 - 36
Thomas Jefferson 13 11 12 16 - 52
Thomas Jefferson -
3-pt. goals - Lucero 2; Carter 3, Moody. Fouled out - None. Technicals - None.
Thomas Jefferson 52, Erie 36
At Thomas Jefferson
Farineau 5 0-2 10, Lucero 3 1-2 9, Roper 0 0-0 0, Campbell 0 4-5 4, McCurry 4 5-5 13, Tyson 0 0-0 0, Mathis 0 0-2 0, Larson 0 0-0 0, Mayers 0 00 0, Black 0 0-0 0, Meier 0 0-0 0, Loy 0 0-0 0. Totals 12 10-16 36.
Moody 6 3-4 16, Chambers 1 0-0 2, Street 1 0-0 2, K. Cecil 3 0-2 6, J. Jackson 2 0-0 4, Clark 3 1-2 7, K. Jackson 2 0-0 4, Carter 4 0-0 11, L. Cecil 0 0-0 0, R. Cecil 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 4-5 52.
Score by quarters:Erie 10 7 12 7 — 36
Thomas Jefferson 13 11 12 16 — 52
3-point field goals — Lucero 2; Carter 3, Moody. Fouled out — none. Technical fouls — none.