LONGMONT — Justin Lee is acutely aware of Niwot recent basketball history. But according to a teammate, the senior power forward might not be fully alert to the extent of his own basketball prowess.
It seemed to appear Saturday night at Silver Creek High School, where Lee’s dominant display guided the Cougars to a key 66-55 road win in the 4A Northern League contest.
The 6-foot-4 Lee scored a season-best 29 points and hit the glass hard for 11 rebounds.
“He’s unbelievable,” Cougars senior guard Jared Hart said. “He doesn’t even know what he’s capable of. He came out tonight and did what he’s capable of doing every night.”
Niwot (7-3, 2-0) matched last season’s win total in 13 fewer games and never let the host Raptors (7-3, 0-2) carve into a 35-31 halftime advantage. The Cougars refused to relinquish the lead thanks to Lee’s timely buckets, which came on an array of midrange jumpers and slashes to the hoop.
“I was just trying to be as aggressive as possible,” Lee said. “They’re a really tough team and they’re really physical. We just tried to match that as much as we could.”
Ryan Kannegeiter added 10 points for Niwot, many of them in timely fashion. In addition to a 3-pointer to beat the first-quarter buzzer, he scored what could have been the backbreaker in the fourth.
After Silver Creek cut the deficit to 51-45 on an inside basket by Chris Rapp, Kannegeiter countered with a three-point play on the other end. Lee followed with a coast-to-coast basket and the lead was back to 11.
Lee congruently spread out his production with 14 points in the first half, 15 in the second.
“He had a hell of a game,” Silver Creek coach Bob Banning said. “He shot the ball extremely well and you could just tell that he felt it tonight. We ran a few different things and a few different folks at him, and he’d just always be up to the task.”
Part of the evolution of coach Enoch Miller’s Niwot’s squad is the emerging ability to close out games.
“Last year, we possibly could have cracked and not known what to do, panicked a little,” Lee said. “Today we kept our cool when they tried to go on runs.”
Added Hart: “We have seven seniors this year and we’re a lot more of a unit. We’re unselfish.”
Silver Creek was coming off a heartbreaker Friday night, in which the Raptors lost 52-50 on a last-second prayer by Mountain View’s Dennis Landry. Banning said his players came out with energy and didn’t let the loss carry over to this one. It was more an issue of Niwot’s steady play.
That being said, his group’s resiliency will be tested after dropping two straight following a 7-1 start.
“Definitely,” he said. “We’re a good basketball team and I think our league is pretty deep. We knew what we were in for as far as this contest. Last year we were lucky enough to split with Niwot — they beat us here and we beat them there — and we’ll get another shot at them this year too.”
Austin Hartman led the Raptors with 12 points and eight rebounds.
As for Lee, his Cougars teammates believe this is only the start of what could be a stellar season.
“He’s finally getting back in it after football,” Hart said. “It took him awhile to get back in the groove. He’s worked hard after the break, he’s in great shape, and now we have someone we can rely on to score.”
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Niwot 66, Silver Creek 55
At Silver Creek HS
NIWOT (7-3, 2-0)
Justin Lee 11 9-13 29, Chalie Mitelhaus 0 0-0 0, Ryan Kannegeiter 3 2-3 10, Brendan Gray 2 2-4 6, Jared Hart 1 6-8 8, Walker Bounds 2 2-4 6, Jonathan Drake 1 0-0 2, Jason Seper 1 3-4 5. Totals 20 24-36 66.
SILVER CREEK (7-3, 0-2)
Ryan Strong 1 5-6 8, Jackson Engles 3 2-2 9, Sam Busser 0 0-0 0, Austin Hartman 5 2-2 12, Anthony Kasper 1 5-9 7, Chris Rapp 3 1-2 7, Nick Hartman 3 2-2 9, Trent Dykema 0 1-2 1, Andrew Rapp 0 1-2 1, Reese Barracks 0 1-2 1. Totals 16 20-29 55.
Score by quarters:
Niwot 17 18 11 20 — 66
Silver Creek 13 18 7 17 — 55
3-point field goals — Niwot (2): Kennegeiter 2; Silver Creek (3): Strong, Engles, N. Hartman. Total fouls — Niwot 24, Silver Creek 27. Fouled out — Lee, Drake, A. Hartman.