AURORA — From where the Fairview boys basketball team started the season to where it ended, the Knights looked like a completely different team.
After a rough start to the campaign, the Knights won 13 of their last 16 games, and in doing so both claimed the Front Range League championship and picked up their first playoff win since 2014 when they defeated Pine Creek on Wednesday. The 20th seed in the Class 5A state tournament, the Knights' run ended in the second round of the postseason with a 76-49 loss on the road at No. 13 Smoky Hill on Saturday afternoon.
Once this group of players began to put it together, they ended up setting a higher standard for their future selves.
"They started playing the way we want them to play," Fairview head coach Patrick Burke said. "For the most part, we want to play for every 94 feet and defend up and down, get the ball moving, spread teams out and share the basketball a lot. That's how we got on our run.
"Obviously, we're young. Four of the five guys we started are first-time varsity basketball players. Ten of the 11 players on our team are first-time varsity basketball players. So, sometimes some of that learning is painful. But if you can learn from it and use it to get better, then in the long run you'll be pretty good. We've just got to learn from it."
The Knights (17-8), who last reached the Sweet 16 in 2013, looked like they belonged among the top 16 5A teams in Colorado throughout the first quarter on Saturday and led by 11 to start the second. The Buffaloes (17-7), however, regained the aggression that carried them through a tough Centennial League midway through the second quarter, holding the Knights to four points in the frame to take a 29-24 lead into halftime.
Fairview cut the lead to 10 points late in the third quarter but was then called for a shooting foul and a reactionary technical foul that led to four Buffaloes points at the free-throw line and a 53-39 home lead to start the fourth. With the momentum solidly in their hands, the Buffaloes outscored the Knights, 23-14, in the final frame to move on to the Sweet 16.
"We came out with a lot of confidence and playing hard," Burke said. "I think we came out swinging and hit them in the mouth, and I don't think they were expecting it. They came back pretty good on us and went on their run. We got in some foul trouble and we withstood it well enough. But some of the stuff that was getting us really good looks in the first quarter, we stopped getting after they switched their defense up a little on us."
Knights sophomore Henry Blackburn scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the first quarter while the Buffaloes had four players score in double figures. The Knights will graduate just four seniors and will return over 75 percent of their scoring next season.
Smoky Hill will play No. 4 Denver East in the Sweet 16 on Wednesday.
Smoky Hill 76, Fairview 49
At Smoky Hill H.S.
Cousin 0 2-2 2, Blackburn 3 8-14 15, Atkinson 1 0-0 2, Page 3 2-2 10, O'Neill 1 0-0 3, Dineen 2 0-0 4, Raguveer 1 0-0 2, Nichols 1 0-0 2, Dolan 3 0-0 7, Monette 0 0-0 0, Erickson 1 0-2 2. Totals 16 12-20 49.
SMOKY HILL (17-7)
Bailey 2 0-0 6, Rock 6 5-6 18, Williams 3 7-9 13, Muwwakkil 1 2-2 4, Mohan 0 2-2 2, Weaver 0 0-0 0, Harge 2 4-4 8, Becker 5 0-0 10, Whitaker 2 0-0 2, Darnell 0 0-0 0, Foster 4 3-4 11, Cabs 1 0-2 2. Totals 25 23-29 76.
Score by quarters:Fairview 2041114—49Smoky Hill 9202423—76
3-point field goals — Fairview (5): Page 2, Blackburn, O'Neill, Dolan; Smoky Hill (3): Bailey 2, Rock. Total fouls — Fairview 23, Smoky Hill 22. Fouled out — O'Neill, Nichols, Becker. Technical fouls — Harge, Dolan.