BOULDER — The first half was not pretty between the No. 2 seed Fairview Knights and the No. 15 seed Vista PEAK Bison, with the two teams combining for nearly as many turnovers as they did points through two quarters of action.
However, Fairview continued to lean on its defense in the second half, and that bought enough time for a third-quarter scoring run to make the difference Wednesday in a 61-38 win to advance to the Great 8 in the Class 5A state basketball tournament.
“We’ve been working for this for four years now,” Fairview’s Mark O’Neill said. “The last two years we got bounced out way before this, so to finally get to the elite eight, that was one of our dreams to play at the Denver Coliseum from the start. It feels good to get this done.”
Jalen Page found holes in the Vista PEAK zone early and scored six of the first 10 points to help the Knights take the lead, a lead they would never relinquish for the second straight time this postseason. On the other side of the court, multiple players shut down the Bison’s offense, led by O’Neill with his four steals. Fairview held Vista PEAK to 1-of-10 shooting in the first quarter and 5-of-21 for the first half.
“Our main thing is transition defense and getting back,” O’Neill said. “We were sliding on defensive transitions and working hard together. Our main thing at the start of the year was that defense wins us games, and that’s what we saw tonight.”
Greysen Carter hit a jump shot with seconds to spare in the half to give Fairview a six-point lead, despite the team going just 6-for-21 from the floor and committing 14 turnovers.
The break saw a different Fairview team take the floor as they were scoring and finding the open man while taking care of the basketball. TJ Williams began the half with a 3-point shot and O’Neill hit another to get the lead up to 14 points. The lead would continue to grow with Carter, Page, Grant Page and Brody Pinto all scoring in what would mount to a 16-0 run to start the third quarter.
“We knew they were a good team and that we had to come out and punch them in the mouth,” Grant Page said. “We just tried to get to them in the second half.”
Thanks to the offensive boost in the third quarter, Fairview scored 21 points and held Vista PEAK to seven in the third to lead by 20. They would execute in the fourth quarter with longer offensive possessions that resulted in open looks while still shutting down the Bison offense. The 38 points allowed by Fairview was the fewest points scored by Vista PEAK this season and well below the 66 points per game they averaged coming into Wednesday night.
“Holding them to 21 points (through) the third quarter, we were saying that’s an average of giving up seven points a quarter,” O’Neill said. “If we do that, we can win any game. It felt good.”
Four players would finish in double figures for the Knights. Leading the team was Carter with 15 points while Jalen Page made all eight of his free throw attempts to score 14. O’Neill and Grant Page would finish with 10 each. Vista PEAK did not have a player reach double figures and was held to 36 percent shooting from the field with 27 turnovers.
Fairview (22-3) will look to keep playing strong defense as the state tournament shifts to a neutral site in the Denver Coliseum for the next three rounds starting on Saturday.
“We have to put everything we can into our defense,” Grant Page said. “Defense is where we make our money. Tonight was not our best offensively, but our defense generated offense for us.”