NIWOT — In a tight battle between the Niwot Cougars and Greeley Central Wildcats on Tuesday, poise and execution down the stretch would determine the final outcome.
Thanks to a clutch 3-pointer from Kyle Reeves with a minute remaining and defensive stops late, it was Niwot who showed the poise to come through with the 44-39 win, completing the season series sweep over Greeley Central in the Northern League.
“We were all fighting as hard as we could,” Reeves said. “Everybody was fighting their hardest and trying to represent.”
Niwot (12-7, 7-3 Northern) looked to be in position to pull ahead in the second quarter with Cooper Sheldon attacking the rim and hitting a 3-point shot that put the Cougars up seven, but Greeley Central (5-14, 2-8) countered with a 9-0 run to go back on top. A late bucket from Rowan Granat would tie the game at 21-21 going into the half. Each team went on a small scoring run and traded the lead in the second half as neither side could pull ahead by more than six points.
The intensity picked up in the final minutes and Niwot fed off the energy while Greeley Central could not handle the pressure. The Wildcats missed the front end of one-and-one free throw attempts and came up empty at the line. The misses piled up and allowed Niwot to hang close.
It was then Reeves who capitalized and put Niwot on top in the final minute.
Reeves drove the baseline for a layup and then hit two free throws that put Niwot in front 35-34. When Greeley Central scored the next four points, Sheldon drove the lane and picked up a foul while attacking the rim after rebounding a missed free throw from Greeley Central. Sheldon knocked his down from the line.
Another empty possession at the foul line for Greeley Central led to Sheldon again driving to the rim with a defender draped all over him. This time, he found Reeves in the corner for a 3-point attempt and the senior knocked down the open perimeter shot that put Niwot back on top.
“I felt I could hit that shot,” Reeves said. “I’ve hit that shot many times and knew that this was my shot, so I took it.”
Just as important as his 3-point shot was the defense Reeves and the team played in the final minute. The Cougars contested shots in the paint and won the battle on the boards to secure the win. With Tuesday’s victory, Niwot is now 12-0 when allowing 50 points or fewer to an opponent.
“Good defense leads to good offense, and that’s exactly what we have to do,” Reeves said. “It’s very important for us.”
Reeves made six of his 11 shots from the field and added four free throws to lead Niwot with 17 points. Sheldon was the other top scorer with 14 — 11 of those coming in the first half.
A big test follows for Niwot as it travels to face Silver Creek on Thursday. With more big games in the Northern League still remaining, it’s about mental toughness for the Cougars to get through with success and build on their RPI for a potential first round game at home in the Class 4A state tournament.
“For us, it’s all in the mind,” Reeves said. “I believe that even with the win (tonight), we can still do better. We need to keep progressing through the season.”