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Niwot boys stun Erie in home opener

 
Series: Niwot boys basketball | Story 2

December 25, 2019 | View PDF

It wasn't quite a Christmas miracle, but Niwot's upset win over the 10th-ranked Erie Tigers on Dec. 19 certainly had fans rejoicing. Led by senior guard Cooper Sheldon, four Cougars scored in double-digits in the 61-48 victory, while an aggressive effort on defense held one of the highest scoring teams in Class 4A to their lowest point total of the season. For first year head coach Clay Wittrock, it was the breakout game he has been eagerly anticipating.

"We finally found a way to calm down, and hit some shots that hadn't been falling, and I think that helped our confidence early," he said after his team's third win of the season. "But, overall, we know if we guard the way we want to guard, and we take care of the ball, we're going to keep ourselves in games."

The Cougars did more than keep themselves in the game against Erie. From the first buzzer, Niwot's five senior starters set a speedy but focused tempo on both sides of the floor that had the Tigers flustered and off their game plan all night. That became clear early in the first period, when Niwot responded to Erie's opening score with three quick baskets, and then extended its lead to 12-4 after a pair of three-pointers from senior Kyle Reeves. Another pair of threes, from Sheldon and senior Noah Pena, gave Niwot an 18-8 lead in the closing seconds of the first quarter.

Erie regrouped in the second quarter, while Niwot's offense seemed to take a break, scoring just six points, most of them by senior Austin Rathburn. The Tigers tied it up twice, and then took a 26-24 lead by half-time.

The Cougars took the floor after the break in much the same fashion as they started the game, and were quickly back to their scoring ways. Senior Jarrett Noterman put the Cougars back on top for good in the opening minutes, then Reeves and senior Milo Ostwald extended the lead to five. Niwot went on to score 17 points in the quarter, and was up by eight heading into the final eight minutes.

"We wanted to push and pull," Wittrock said of team's high-scoring start in both halves. "We were confident coming into the game that we could guard well and then turn those into quicker possessions....We played with rhythm and confidence."

The shots just kept falling for Niwot in the final period whether from the floor or the line, and the lead over Erie just kept growing, though a small surge from the Tigers in the closing minutes kept it under 20 points. Niwot went on to a convincing 17-point victory, and sent the festive home crowd home with an early Christmas present. Sheldon hopes it's the gift that keeps on giving.

"Today we just really came out with a different kind of energy and that really motivated us," he said. "From here on out, I think that's the standard that we should be able to keep throughout the season."

Sheldon ended the night with team-high 15 points, as well as six rebounds, and five assists. Rathburn had his second double-double of the season, with 11 points and 10 rebounds. Reeves also scored 11, while Ostwald finished with 10. Pena and Noterman scored six apiece.

As impressive as their offensive play was, both Sheldon and Wittrock ultimately credited defense with the win. Thanks to near constant pressure from Niwot, Erie's offense struggled to find good shots and couldn't capitalize on turnovers.

"Erie's a really good team, and to hold a team that good to under 50 points, it fueled us on the offensive end," he said. Going into the game, Erie averaged 72.2 points-per-game, among the highest in Class 4A. "We trusted that we were guarding well enough on our end that we didn't have to sit on the ball."

The Niwot boys improved to 3-3 on the year, and headed into the two-week holiday break with a newfound model of success. After battling inconsistency in their first five games, Wittrock said the Cougars are now ready to turn a corner.

"I'm pleased we're seeing that growth. It's good to end 2019 with a win, and get a little time to heal up, reflect, and get ready for league, because it's not going to get any easier."

Niwot will be back in action on Jan. 2 at 10 a.m. for game 1 of the Roughrider Shootout at Roosevelt High School in Johnstown. The Cougars' first Northern League contest is against Northridge on Jan. 7.

 

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