Jeremy Papasso / Daily Camera
Niwot’s Justin Lee makes a move against Holy Family’s Andy Nelson during the Cougars’ season-opening win Friday night.

NIWOT — Niwot basketball coach Enoch Miller was honored to have good friend Pete Villecco’s Holy Family Tigers open up their first season in Class 4A at the Niwot gym on Friday night.

Miller just hoped his Cougars wouldn’t treat the Tigers too kindly in the first-ever regular season meeting between the two longtime Colorado coaches.

As if they knew each other’s every move, scoring came at a premium in the game, and both coaches walked away knowing their defenses played outstanding.

Niwot, however, walked away with the win. Big buckets from bench players Jared Hart and Ryan Kannegeiter boosted the Cougars in the second half, and Niwot improved to 2-0 with a 48-42 win.

“I am just glad the game is over because I knew it was going to be tough going against a guy who I consider is my best friend right now,” Miller said after watching his team score 18 points in the fourth quarter to pull out the win. “I knew they were good, and having played them tonight, they’re even better than I thought, especially defensively.”

“We were excited to play, and we knew (Niwot) was much improved because of coach Enoch,” Villecco added. “We knew it would be a challenge here. Moving up, you know, this is a good eye-opener for our kids that it’s going to be like this most nights.”

The Tigers, last year’s Class 3A champions, were missing a key element of their starting lineup on Friday with Chris Helbig’s football injury still lingering. That arguably played a big difference in Holy Family’s ineffectiveness around the basket, but Villecco wasn’t going to offer excuses.

“I thought we got a lot of good shots tonight but I also though Niwot just played a great game defensively,” Villecco said. “Joe Golter, he’s a sophomore and he played all 32 minutes, played his guts out and did a lot of good things. It was just a tough night to score.”

In reality, both teams had players come off the bench to score some clutch baskets. In addition to Luke Golter’s 19 points (10 of those coming off free throws), the Tigers rode the hot hand of Matt Griggs in the second half.

Griggs nailed three 3-pointers, the latest coming with 3 minutes, 59 seconds left to give the Tigers a 38-36 lead.

On the other side was Hart for NHS, who was fairly quiet until the final stretch. Golter had made it 40-39 for Holy Family inside of 1:30 to play, and Hart hit a jumper immediately on the other end to make it 41-40 in favor of Niwot.

Alex Comeaux was left alone inside with 50 seconds left for another Holy Family lead, but with 38 ticks remaining Hart dropped another 3-pointer to make it 44-42.

Brendan Gray, who had 12 points to lead the Cougars, made four free throws down the stretch and grabbed a couple key rebounds. Kannegeiter had eight points, all in the second half.

“We came into the game prepared, and the more and more we got in the game and were playing them close, we believed in ourselves,” Hart said. “We play team ball, and it doesn’t matter who scores, we get the job done together. It’s a big win, our first home win of the year. We knew we were capable of winning, and we got the job done.”

“We made some big shots down the stretch, and the guys were just resilient and did not give up,” Miller said. “It’s going to be a game of runs when you play good teams, and we made a couple of runs that helped us get through.”

I feel like we’re much deeper this year, and I’m excited about that. I love our bench.”

Niwot limited Holy Family to just 3 for 19 shooting in the first half, and Justin Lee’s tough runner to beat the halftime buzzer gave the Cougars a short-lived 24-15 lead.

Holy Family came storming back with three 3-pointers in the first 3 minutes of the third to tie the game at 24-24, and it was back-and-forth the rest of the way.

Niwot’s schedule does not get any easier as they play Class 5A Fairview next Tuesday. Holy Family will try and rebound — hopefully with Helbig available — Wednesday against 5A Poudre in a tournament in Fort Collins.

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Joe Golter 1 1-2 3, Alex Comeaux 2 2-4 7, Andy Nelson 0 0-2 0, Luke Golter 4 10-13 19, Matt Griggs 3 0-0 9, Nick Kruetzer 2 0-2 4. Totals 12 13-23 42.

NIWOT (2-0)

Justin Lee 4 0-2 8, Walker Bounds 0 1-4 1, Ryan Kannegeiter 2 3-3 8, Brendan Gray 3 4-4 12, Jason Seper 3 1-2 7, Michael Agado 2 0-0 4, Jared Hart 3 0-0 8. Totals 17 9-15 48.

Score by quarters:

Holy Family  5  10  14  13  — 42

Niwot  5  19  6  18  — 48

3-point field goals — Holy Family (5): Griggs 3, Comeaux, L. Golter; Niwot (5): Gray 2, Hart 2, Kannegeiter. Total fouls — Holy Family 16, Niwot 17. Fouled out — Brown.