NIWOT — The Niwot boys basketball team has had to rely on numerous different players this season. Some the Cougars expected, others they didn’t.
In a 49-45 loss to Greeley Central on Friday, the injury-depleted Cougars got a big boost from junior guard Jordan Keeler.
“I was stronger with the ball than I usually am,” Keeler said. “Before I just want to make mistakes and I think today I just kind of went after it. I just went hard.”
Keeler had a 14-point, 10-rebound double-double and hit some big shots at the end but it wasn’t enough to sustain a Cougars comeback.
“We had some bad turnovers,” Keeler said. “We can’t have those. We’ve got to be stronger with the ball and make good decisions down the stretch. I think we fought really hard but it just didn’t go our way in the end.”
Trailing by two at halftime, the Cougars tied the game 23-23 to start the second half. But the Wildcats responded with a 9-0 run.
“Unfortunately, that’s kind of how the season has been going,” junior guard Nate Merriman said. “We fall apart in the middle quarters. We usually start off strong or we end strong. This time we really ended strong but it wasn’t enough because we just dug ourselves too deep in a hole.”
The Cougars tied the game three times in the second half and fought their way back into the game. Keeler came down with an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and was fouled late in the fourth quarter. He hit both bonus free throws to tie the game 43-43 with 35 seconds left.
The Wildcats retook the lead 45-43 on the next play. Cougars point guard Michael Ogez appeared to retie the game with 24.9 seconds remaining on a driving layup but he was called for a charging foul.
After a Wildcats free throw, Keeler made another shot to bring the Cougars within one at 46-45.
The Cougars fouled Sheldon Darnell with 4.2 seconds left. Darnell made the first and missed the second but the Cougers couldn’t come up with a loose ball that went out of bounds to the Wildcats.
Another Cougars foul and two made free throws from Darnell put the game out of reach.
Merriman said the Cougars really picked up their game last week, winning three games in five days. But without the size they started the season with, they were no match inside for the Wildcats on Friday.
“They’ve got some skyscrapers so it’s hard to execute our offense correctly and come back,” Merriman said. “Them having such big, tall guys makes it a deflator when they get offensive rebounds. It kills the momentum and it’s hard for the team to bounce back from that.”
The Wildcats have three players 6-foot-6 or taller. In the post, Cougars leading-scorer Henry Sebesta fought through double teams all game and finished with 17 points and seven rebounds. He fouled out in the final seconds of the fourth quarter.
Merriman, Keeler and junior guard Forrest Lee have had to create more offense to help Sebesta and Ogez since the Cougars lost the bulk of their lineup to injuries in December.
“With all the injuries on our team, everybody has had to step up a lot,” Merriman said. “My role beforehand was a lot of defense and rebounding. We’ve had to step up on the offensive end and be aggressive all the time.”
The Cougars host rival Skyline (5-7, 3-3 Tri-Valley) tonight at 7 p.m.
Brad Cochi can be reached at email@example.com.
Greeley Central 49, Niwot 45
At Niwot HS
GREELEY CENTRAL (7-7, 5-1)
O’Connell 0 0-0 0, Vigil 0 0-0 0, Parks 0 0-0 0, Elrick 5 5-7 15, Tellez 3 2-2 9, Ciza 0 0-0 0, Damrell 3 4-5 10, S. Darnell 4 3-4 11, Stanck 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 14-18 49.
NIWOT (6-7, 3-3)
Lee 0 0-0 0, Keeler 3 7-10 14, Janzen 1 0-0 3, Merriman 1 4-6 6, Sebesta 6 5-7 17, Heape 0 0-0 0, Ogez 2 1-1 5. Totals 13 17-23 45.
Score by quarters:
Greeley Central 13 10 11 15 — 49
Niwot 9 12 8 16 — 45
3-point field goals — Greeley Central (1): Tellez; Niwot (2): Keeler, Janzen. Total fouls — Greely Central 17, Niwot 14. Fouled out — Sebesta. Technical fouls — None.