EVERGREEN – Conifer boys basketball coach Jeff DeBuhr has been advocating all season for his players to make the extra pass.
The message was met with mixed signals, as evidence by the Lobos' 7-8 record through their first 15 games.
Now, though, it appears the Conifer players are buying in whole-heartedly to what their coach is preaching.
The Lobos have ripped off five straight wins, including a 49-38 Class 4A Jefferson County League victory over mountain rival Evergreen on Feb. 12.
Against the Cougars, the Lobos (5-1 Jeffco, 12-8 overall) used crisp ball movement to set up a plethora of easy baskets on the interior, and also created several uncontested looks from the perimeter.
“We’ve been working real hard on penetration moves,” DeBuhr said. “Before they would penetrate and would just kind of go right into (defenders). Now, they’re starting to draw that defender and dropping the ball off to an open teammate. That was a big part of the game.”
Still, despite the good ball movement, 49 points doesn't exactly scream out offensive explosion.
What ultimately swung the game in the Lobos' favor was their defense. Conifer pressured Evergreen (4-2, 11-9) all night, forcing the host Cougars to commit 23 turnovers, while making just 13 field goals.
“That’s by far the best defensive game we’ve played all season,” DeBuhr said. “We really work to peak at this time of year and the guys are really coming together on the defensive end.”
Aaron Eddy, one of nine seniors on the Lobos' roster, said because the two schools play a similar style, it made preparing for the game easy.
“We’ve seen their offense before, since we run the similar thing,” said Eddy, who finished with 10 points. “We were prepared to stop them. We shut down their top two scorers, and that really made a difference.”
Despite scoring just five first quarter points, the Cougars still found themselves in a close game at halftime, trailing by just five points at 24-19.
Evergreen's Charlie Blackstock, who scored a team-high 12 points, opened the third quarter with five straight points, drawing Evergreen within three at 27-24. Conifer responded with a 10-0 run (five different players scored a basket) to stretch its lead to 13 points entering the fourth quarter.
The Cougars twice drew as close as seven points in the final stanza, but could never make a push to get within serious striking distance. Eddy put the game away with a pair of layups in the final two minutes.
“We go into halftime only down five and we hadn’t played particularly well, I thought maybe we’d get ourselves going in the second half and give ourselves a shot at the end,” said Evergreen coach Scott Haebe. “But, we could never get anything going. You only score 38 points, you’re not going to beat too many teams.”
The win was important on multiple levels for the Lobos, who defeated the Cougars for only the second time in school history.
“We’re the first team from Conifer to get a win here in Evergreen’s home gym,” Eddy said. “It’s a big bang to go out on.”
Added DeBuhr: “This is huge for us,” DeBuhr said. “It’s been one of our goals since I got here was that we wanted to knock off some of the top-four teams in Jeffco. It’s been the same four teams (D’Evelyn, Golden, Ralston Valley and Evergreen) the past several years. If you want to become one of those top teams, you’re going to have to beat some of the teams above you.
“It’s a huge step for our program.”
Conifer (5-1, 12-8): Aaron Eddy 5 0-1 10, Magnus Gordon 4 4-6 12, Decker Brown 2 0-0 5, Zane Womeldorph 2 1-2 5, Stephen Theiss 3 2-4 8, Jimmy Gorrell 2 0-0 5, Lucas Gobbi 2 0-0 4. Totals: 20 7-13 49.
Evergreen (4-2, 11-9): Kurt Dieter 1 0-0 2, Charlie Blackstock 5 1-2 12, Joe Beaudin 3 1-5 8, Cam Tucker 1 3-3 5, David Schultz 1 1-3 3, Will Vickstrom 0 2-2 2, Ryan Haebe 1 0-0 2, Matt Dodge 1 0-0 2, Mike Philbin 1 0-2 2. Totals: 13 8-17 38.
3-pt. goals: Brown, Gorrell; Blackstock, Beaudin.