Jonathan Castner
Longmont’s Austin Kemp attacks the basket while leading the Trojans to a cross-town win against Niwot on Thursday.

NIWOT — Named the 2013 Times-Call Player of the Year as a junior, Longmont’s Austin Kemp could not wait to see what his senior season could hold.

Less than a minute into the first game of the season, Kemp sprained his left ankle and fractured a growth plate in his left foot. It was the opposite of the auspicious start the area’s top returning player had envisioned.

The Trojans’ leading scorer sat out the first month of his senior season, but he’s back and he’s making up for lost time. On Thursday night, Kemp scored 23 points to lead the Trojans to a 71-51 win over Northern League rival Niwot.

“It’s really exciting. Every game I missed, I was just hoping I could get back sooner and sooner,” Kemp said. “It’s my senior season and I missed playing with my team. That made me push through physical therapy even more and it’s one of the best feelings ever being back.”

Kemp poured in 27 points in his first game back against Greeley Central on Tuesday. Against Niwot, he was 9 for 13 from the field. The slashing guard even hit a 3-pointer on Thursday night. The last time he did that was against Frederick High School on Dec. 10, 2012.

Doing the bulk of his scoring early on, Kemp’s 13 second-quarter points helped the Trojans build a 32-13 lead by halftime. The Trojans defense did the rest.

Switching looks from man to zone and trapping, the lanky Trojans forced 17 Cougars turnovers in the first half and 24 total in the game. The Trojans’ defensive effort held the Cougars scoreless until a Justin Lee free throw, the Cougars’ only point in the period, put them on the board with 1 minute, 7 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

“We came out with good intensity on defense and that set the tone early,” Trojans sophomore guard David Speidel said. “We kept it going from there. We just kept mixing it up to keep them guessing — man, 2-3, 1-3-1 — and tried to come after them from all different angles. It’s great to have Austin back and to start the conference 2-0.”

The Trojans (7-1, 2-0 Northern league) are currently ranked 10th in the Colorado AP Media poll and have now won the last 13 meetings between the two cross-town rivals. Sophomores Justinian Jessup (14 points), Kevin Mitchell (10) and Speidel (6) combined for 30 points and seven steals to ensure the Trojans’ win streak continued.

Despite the rough start, the Cougars (3-7, 0-2) picked it up in the second half and shot the ball well from the perimeter. Juniors Brendan Gray, Charlie Mitelhaus and Jason Seper each hit two of the Cougars’ eight 3-pointers. Junior Jared Hart hustled and shot 7 for 10 at the free-throw line to lead the Cougars with 13 points. Seper scored nine points and senior Clarke Colwell scored seven. Senior Kyle Kolakowski, Mitelhaus and Gray each scored six.

Searching for some momentum in their first season under head coach Enoch Miller, the Cougars have lost their last three games since beating Skyline on Dec. 14. Tuesday night, Miller said the Cougars showed their potential by scoring just one point fewer than the Trojans in the second half. They just couldn’t overcome the daunting early deficit.

“Coach (Jeff) Kloster is a great coach and they made it really tough on us with their length,” Miller said. “I feel like we weren’t prepared tonight and we didn’t come out with the fire we needed to, and that’s on me. We basically played them dead even in the second half. We hit some shots and attacked the rim at times in the second half but we had double-digit turnovers in the first quarter. When you have one point at the end of the first quarter and 13 at halftime, it’s easy to give up. But we didn’t give up. We kept fighting and that was the biggest positive.”

The Trojans will play a non-conference home game against Mead (4-4, 1-0 Tri-Valley League) on Saturday. The Cougars will play at Silver Creek (4-3, 1-0) on Tuesday.

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Longmont 71, Niwot 51

At Niwot HS

LONGMONT (7-1, 2-0)

Sterkel 1 0-0 3, Jessup 5 3-3 14, Speidel 1 3-4 6, Rothe 0 0-0 0, Cordova 0 2-2 2, Kemp 9 4-6 23, Hitchcock 0 0-0 0, Rulon 0 1-2 1, Sigg 1 1-2 3, O’Grady 2 1-2 5, Mitchell 3 4-5 10, Wilkey 1 0-0 2, Rivera 1 0-0 2. Totals 24 19-26 71.

NIWOT (3-7, 0-2)

Lee 1 2-2 4, Drake 0 0-0 0, Hart 3 7-10 13, Mitelhaus 2 0-0 6, Kolakowski 2 1-2 6, Kannegeiter 0 0-0 0, Colwell 2 2-2 7, Seper 2 3-5 9, Gray 2 0-0 6. Totals 14 15-21 51.

Score by quarters:

Longmont 11 21 17 22 — 71

Niwot 1 12 14 24 — 51

3-point field goals — Longmont (4): Sterkel, Kemp, Jessup, Speidel; Niwot (8): Gray 2, Mitelhaus 2, Seper 2, Colwell, Kolakowski. Total fouls — Longmont 17, Niwot 21. Fouled out — Seper.