LONGMONT — According to his own self-diagnosis, Kevin Mitchell was only at about 60 percent Saturday as the Longmont boys basketball team prepared to host Montbello.
Having already missed Longmont’s two previous games due to illness, Mitchell wasn’t about to miss a top-10 showdown pitting the Trojans, who sit atop the AP media poll in 4A, against 5A No. 5 Montbello. Mitchell provided an early spark for Longmont, and Justinian Jessup and the Trojans’ smothering defense did the rest as Longmont remained undefeated with a 54-44 victory.
“I’ve been down all week, but it’s good to be back and get this W,” Mitchell said. “This is the best I’ve felt all week. But I had to be there for the team. That was a great team to go up against, top-five in 5A. It was great to go at it and there was a lot of intensity.”
Three players reached double-figures in the scoring column for Longmont (12-0), yet it was the Trojans’ defense that was the star of the show.
Longmont outscored the visiting Warriors 20-4 in the second quarter, finishing the half on a 16-0 run that gave the hosts a 35-13 lead at the break. After keeping the clamps on Montbello for the first 4 minutes, 20 seconds of the third quarter as well, the Trojans managed to hold Montbello scoreless for a span of 9:44.
Keying that effort was a switch to a trapping 1-3-1 zone early in the second quarter that clearly gave Montbello fits. The Warriors committed nine turnovers in the frame, with many of them leading to easy Longmont baskets at the other end.
Montbello (10-3) was held almost 20 points under its scoring average.
“When you go against a quality team, it’s kind of a measuring stick. And we needed the competition,” Longmont coach Jeff Kloster said. “I thought our kids came with tremendous intensity. We allow a team like Montbello 13 points in the first half, that was a statement itself. It told our kids that we can compete against anyone.
“What we were making them do was yo-yo the ball with lob passes. That allowed our defense to be able to shift quickly. It just took them out of rhythm. I was extremely pleased with that in the first half.”
Mitchell and Blake O’Grady provided the early boost offensively for the Trojans, with Mitchell scoring eight of his 14 points in the first quarter and O’Grady netting nine of his 11 before halftime.
The rest of the heavy lifting once again was handled by Jessup. After going scoreless while deferring to his teammates in the first quarter, Jessup erupted for 12 points during Longmont’s monster second quarter before finishing with a team-leading 21points.
Montbello rallied behind the torrid second-half shooting of senior Malik Hart, who went 7 for 10 after the break while knocking down four consecutive 3-pointers. Hart’s third 3-pointer of the second half brought the Warriors within nine points with just over 4 minutes remaining, but consecutive baskets from Eli Sullivan and Mitchell gave the Trojans breathing room.
Montbello, which endured a rugged week that included a Monday win against 5A No. 8 Mountain Vista and a loss Tuesday against top-ranked Regis Jesuit, did not get the deficit under 10 points again until the waning seconds of the game.
“I think people have kind of doubted our strength of schedule this year, except maybe Northridge and Mead,” said Jessup, who recorded six steals. “This was a legit win. It’s a top-10 5A team so it’s a good win for us. We had the mindset of getting off to a good start, and we did that. We were up by (22) at halftime, so that helped a lot.”
Longmont played without senior forward Clint Sigg, who was taking a football recruiting trip to Davidson University. The Trojans expect to feature a full roster for the first time in four games when they resume Northern League play Tuesday at Thompson Valley.
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Longmont 54, Montbello 44
At Longmont HS
Treyvaughn Osler 0 0-0 0, Malik Hart 9 2-4 25, Troy Green 1 0-2 2, Kur Ayol 2 0-0 5, Relando Rodgers 0 0-0 0, Sakou Cisse 1 2-4 5, Clarence Whittington 3 1-4 7, Aaris Bonds 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 5-14 44.
Eli Sullivan 2 0-0 4, Justinian Jessup 7 6-7 21, David Speidel 0 1-2 1, Blake O’Grady 4 2-5 11, Kevin Mitchell 6 2-3 14, Cooper Rothe 0 1-3 1, Jorge Cordova 0 0-0 0, Ryan Rulon 0 0-0 0, Kolton Bachman 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 12-20 54.
Score by quarters:
Montbello 9 4 11 20 — 44
Longmont 15 20 3 16 — 54
3-point field goals — Montbello (7): Hart 6, Cisse; Longmont (2): O’Grady, Jessup. Total fouls — Montbello 20, Longmont 17. Fouled out — Bonds, Mitchell.