LAFAYETTE — Owen Koonce had one of his best nights of the season for the Centaurus Warriors to help them in their first-round win in the Class 4A state basketball tournament Wednesday night.
The senior scored 36 points and shot 68 percent from the field, getting points in all areas of the court to lead Centaurus to a 79-60 win over Palmer Ridge and advance in the tournament.
“Make or miss, I’m always in the mindset to try and help my team get a win,” Koonce said. “I hit a few shots early and I was feeling good in taking my shots.”
Koonce wasted no time getting going for Centaurus (18-6) as he scored the first eight points of the game with a pair of 3-pointers and a look inside. The flurry of shots from behind the arc continued to fall as he made all four of his 3-point shots in the first half while also driving to the rim, including a breakaway slam dunk off a steal. By the half, he already put up 24 points on 9-of-13 shooting and had outscored Palmer Ridge (8-16) by himself as the Warriors led 39-22.
The damage in the second half from Koonce came inside and at the foul line as he worked on getting into the paint. His final bucket, a reverse dunk with two hands, sent the gym in a frenzy on its way to celebrating with the team at center court a few minutes later.
“It’s do-or-die right now,” Koonce said. “I feel bad for (Palmer Ridge). We could have been in their situation. We’re just really excited right now.”
Centaurus coach Travis Maron was equally as impressed with the performance from his senior leader on the night he established career-high in points.
“He’s just special. Even when he’s not playing well, he’s playing well,” Maron said. “You just try to watch it and try not to screw it up as a coach and let him go do his thing while trying to help the team, which he buys into and does great with. He’s just special and it’s fun (to watch).”
Koonce was the leader but far from the only effective scorer for Centaurus. Ryan Vaver set his own career-high with 19 points on an efficient night where he went 6-of-7 from the field and 7-of-7 at the free throw line. Carson Hill and JT Lewicki played off Koonce and Vaver to find open spots on the court, as well.
Eight players scored in the win, and CHS shot 46 percent from the field.
“We’ve been a doing a good job of sharing the basketball and trusting each other,” Maron said. “We have a mentality that we are not going to settle for anything. We’ve seen that over the course of the last few weeks.”
With Koonce and Gabe Godard being the lone players back with experience from last year’s team that made a run to the Great 8, Centaurus is looking toward Koonce to lead the way with his experience while also playing with their newfound identity from this season in hopes to make a similar or deeper run in the postseason.
“Nothing is given to you,” Koonce said. “You have to earn everything. We’re ready to fight.”
The No 18 seed Warriors will travel to Lakewood and face the No. 15 seed Green Mountain Rams (17-6) in the second round on Saturday at 4 p.m. This year, Centaurus will have to find success on the road to keep its season alive.
“We have to make (Green Mountain) earn it on both ends and not making anything easy for them,” Maron said. “They are a good team and a physical team. They will get after us. I’m expecting a ruckus crowd down there Saturday, so our guys have to have their minds right for that.”