DENVER — Evergreen’s formula for success offensively goes something like this: Knock them down, spread them out, cut them up and keep knocking them down.
That formula never reached critical mass Feb. 28 as the fifth-seeded Cougars failed to hit enough 3-pointers to create that all-important chain reaction against fourth-seeded Thomas Jefferson.
“We didn’t shoot real well,” Cougars coach Scott Haebe said. “We knew coming in we were going to have to knock down some shots to spread out their defense.”
With the Cougars not raining fire from beyond the arc, they had to attack inside, which allowed the Spartans to sag, jump the passing lanes and generally have their way down the stretch as the Cougars fell 66-57 in the second round of the Class 4A state tournament.
The Cougars (18-7) prevented the Spartans from owning the boards and pushing the tempo for much of the game, but the Spartans finally got the game they wanted late in the third quarter and through much of the fourth, despite a spirited rally by the Cougars.
Kurt Dieter led the Cougars with 16 points and eight rebounds before fouling out with 2:32 remaining. Junior Cam Tucker did his best to give the Cougars hope in the final frame where he scored 10 of his 15 points, while Chris Lemasters picked up six of his 11 points. David Schultz added seven points.
The Spartans (16-8), who play in the mixed 5A/4A Denver Prep League and won 4A titles most recently in 2006 and 2005, also got the home crowd going for their crucial separation.
Junior guard Ray Riley threw down a monster dunk from the right baseline to give the Spartans a 45-37 lead – their biggest of the game at that point – just before the end of the third quarter. Riley came back with an alley-oop dunk early in the fourth as the Spartans would eventually extend their lead to 55-45 with 2:58 remaining.
But the Cougars would hit some shots and force some turnovers and cut the deficit to 59-56 on Tucker’s basket with 59 seconds left.
But no more baskets would fall for Evergreen and the Spartans converted from the free-throw line to advance in the Ron Shavlik Region to the Sweet 16.
“We had to rely more on the inside,” Tucker said. “We didn’t really get as many 3s as we wanted.”
The Cougars shot just 3-of-14 from 3-point range, with two of those 3-pointers coming in a first quarter that had six lead changes and Evergreen’s biggest lead of 19-16 after two free throws by Lee Hodson.
Evergreen also got just eight points off the bench, including rare zero-point contributions by starting guard Ryan Haebe and 3-point specialist Chris Hudak.
Ryan Haebe did play a strong game as a pure point guard and afterwards drew the praise of Spartans coach Grant Laman. Haebe did not appear rattled by the Spartans’ pressure and the Cougars committed just 16 turnovers, compared to 18 by the Spartans.
Thomas Jefferson 16-14-15-21—66
Evergreen: Haebe 0 0-0 0, Lemasters 2 1-1 11, Dieter 7 2-3 16, Tucker 5 5-7 15, Schultz 2 3-3 7, Herbert 1 1-2 4, Hudak 0 0-0 0, Hodson 0 4-6 4, Trimarco 0 0-0 0. Totals 19 16-22 57.
3-point goals: Lemasters 2, Herbert.