NIWOT — When you’re a winning team, it sure is a lot easier to right the ship when things aren’t exactly going perfect. For the Niwot boys basketball team on Saturday night, that was as simple as beefing up down low.
Entrenched in a non-league battle against upset-minded Frederick — winners of just one game this season — the Cougars’ physical play took over particularly on rebounds in the second half at the NHS gym, and it helped sway a well-fought contest in their favor for a 63-56 victory.
Defensive intensity was a key to the turnaround after the Cougars (8-5) trailed Frederick (1-12) by six at halftime. It was definitely lacking in the first half, Justin Lee said, but the deficit made the team wake up a little bit to post the home win.
“We didn’t really come to play defensively at first, and it was the same thing against Thompson Valley,” Lee said, referring to a 67-63 overtime loss to the Eagles on Friday night. “Every rebound had to be ours on defense, and even some on offense. I really feel like this game built our chemistry a little more. They were a good team, and we needed to grind this one out. We had to get gritty at the end, and it brought us together.”
“We gave them a lot of space early and our close-outs weren’t great, and they made shots,” Niwot coach Enoch Miller said after watching his team shoot nearly 50 percent in the second half. “We played better in the second half, harder to run them off the 3-point line and contest their shots. I thought we dug in when we had to.”
Lee was, in reduced terms, a beast to help lead by example. He scored most of his 17 points in the first half by hitting his first six field goals, but his presence in the paint was felt with 12 second-half rebounds — eight in the fourth quarter alone.
Niwot outrebounded Frederick 14-3 in the final stanza and 34-18 for the game. Jared Hart also had four boards in the fourth quarter. When leading by just a single point going into the final frame, that played a huge role for the hosts. Frederick shot just 3 for 11 in the fourth quarter, and most of those resulted in the Warriors having to go back on defense.
Desperate for a win, the highs were high for Frederick and the lows were low in a see-saw affair. The Warriors hit eight of their first 12 3-point attempts and managed to rebound well early, and that recipe added up to a 33-27 halftime lead after scoring the final seven points of the second quarter.
Frederick maintained an eight-point lead at 43-35 with 3 minutes, 56 seconds to go in the third quarter, but once the Warriors got in the single bonus at the free throw line, they started to lose momentum with missed charity shots. They missed four straight free throws in the third, and with 26 seconds left Niwot’s Ryan Kannegeiter hit a 3-pointer to make it 46-45 Cougars.
Between the 6:25 mark and the 2:40 mark of the fourth, the lead changed hands five times, with Frederick’s last lead coming at 53-52 and 4:23 left. Lee hit 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game at 53-53, and then after several empty possessions Lee hit a layup in transition after a Niwot steal with 2:40 remaining, giving the final lead it would need at 55-53.
Jason Seper, who had 10 points, hit a mid-lane jumper at the 2:03 mark to make it 57-54, and Jonny Drake combined for six more free throws down the stretch. Niwot went 9 for 12 from the free throw line in the fourth while Frederick continued to struggle, going 4 for 10.
“The effort was there for us, and I told my guys not to hang their heads even though it’s been a while since we’ve won a game,” Frederick coach Larry Frank said. “We were 7 of 18 at the free-throw line, and four of those were front ends of (the bonus) in the third quarter. Those are an easy fix. I think defensively we’re getting better … kids are getting more comfortable in their roles. The wins will come.”
“They’re a team that’s starving for a win, and they played well,” Miller said of Frederick. “Wins are hard to come by, and we have a lot of work to do, but we’ll take it.”
Brendan Gray had 12 points and Hart added eight for Niwot. Lane Hiser (14 points), Chelton LeBon (12) and Andy Parker (10) led a good effort from FHS.
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Niwot 63, Frederick 56
At Niwot HS
Jacob Oster 1 0-2 2, Andy Parker 3 3-5 10, Lane Hiser 4 3-5 14, Nathan Washington 2 0-2 4, Alec Bessler 2 0-1 5, Dylan Dufour 1 0-1 2, Chelton LeBon 4 1-2 12, Chris Gutierrez 2 0-0 5, Brady Tagliente 1 0-0 2. Totals 20 7-18 56.
Justin Lee 7 3-5 17, Jonny Drake 1 7-8 9, Ryan Kannegeiter 1 2-2 5, Brendan Gray 4 1-2 12, Jared Hart 3 1-3 8, Charlie Mitelhaus 1 0-1 2, Walker Bounds 0 0-0 0, Jason Seper 4 2-3 10, Michael Agado 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 16-24 63.
Score by quarters:
Frederick 14 19 12 11 — 56
Niwot 12 15 19 17 — 63
3-point field goals — Frederick (9): Hiser 3, LeBon 3, Parker, Bessler, Gutierrez; Niwot (5): Gray 3, Kannegeiter, Hart. Total fouls — Frederick 19, Niwot 20. Fouled out — Parker.