AURORA | A 91 percent free throw shooter through Eaglecrest’s first 12 games, Branden Bunn shot just 3-for-9 from the charity stripe Friday night.
The senior guard made the biggest one of the night with 13.9 seconds remaining, however, which broke a tie and eventually held up to give the Raptors a wild 50-49 Centennial League boys basketball win at Smoky Hill in front of a packed house.
Bunn missed the back end of his two free throws and the Buffaloes had a chance to win it when junior Kenny Foster got a good look on a leaner in the paint, but the shot was off and senior XaiV’ion Jackson emerged with the ball as time expired as Eaglecrest won on Smoky Hill’s home court for the 11th straight season.
“I had to step and make the one that mattered, but I missed way too many free throws tonight,” Bunn said. “It was crazy.”
Nobody reached double figures for the Raptors — who were led by Jackson, Morgan Brown and Aaron Bokol with nine apiece — who moved to 9-5 overall in coach Jarris Krapcha’s first season with their fourth straight win. Eaglecrest (4-2) took sole possession of second place in the Centennial League standings, two games behind 6-0 Overland, near the end of the first of two rounds of league play.
Foster finished with a game-high 22 points with eight coming in the fourth quarter, including an inside bucket with just under three minutes left to tie the game, while senior John Harge added 10 for coach Anthony Hardin’s Smoky Hill team (9-6, 2-4).
Eaglecrest has maintained a streak of wins at Smoky Hill dating back to the 2006-07 season with a variety of tight victories, including last season’s win on Colbey Ross’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer.
This time, the Raptors seemed to be in good position with a seven-point halftime lead — which could have been larger save for a 3-for-9 performance at the free throw line — and stretched the advantage to 14 points on a flurry by Brown that included a dunk and three-point play for a 40-26 edge.
But Krapcha — who previously coached at Doherty and arrived at Eaglecrest to take over for retired John Olander this season — has learned that Centennial League games rarely go quietly.
Indeed this one didn’t, either, as Foster heated up and the Buffaloes surged back into the game.
Sophomore Quinten Rock fed senior Will Becker for a big dunk to end the third quarter and make it a seven-point game and Smoky Hill went on a 10-2 run to open the fourth quarter.
Harge’s steal and layup gave the Buffaloes a 48-47 lead, which Jackson erased on the next trip down the floor for the Raptors. Brown’s 1-for-2 trip to the free throw line preceded Foster’s tying basket that set up the final scenario.
Eaglecrest had the ball with a minute left and milked much of it off the clock as it looked for the final shot, but Smoky Hill’s Eric Williams gambled on trying to steal the ball from Bunn near midcourt and was whistled for a foul. Krapcha believed his senior would come through and he did.
“Branden’s like an 80-something percent shooter, so it was pretty uncommon for him tonight,” Krapcha said. “I thought on a couple of them he was tired, but I was confident coming out of that time out that he would make them. He had to the most important one, the first one, since it was a 1-and-1 and he did.”
Hardin had called a play in the previous time out and had his team attack after the missed free throw, with Foster driving to the hoop against Jackson and missing a short leaner in the lane. With bodies on the floor, Harge and Becker both tried to tip the ball in and couldn’t quite do it and Jackson came away with the loose ball and jetted upcourt until the final horn.
“We absolutely got a great shot, we got a 3- or 4-foot layup from one of the best players in the state at the buzzer,” Hardin said. “We’ll take that shot 10 times out of 10.”
Both teams struggled at the free throw line as Eaglecrest finished 6-for-18 and Smoky Hill turned in a 15-for-27 performance.
Eaglecrest moves to a non-league home game against Denver East at 7 p.m. Jan. 22, then completes the first round of Centennial League play with a 7 p.m. Jan. 24 home game against Cherokee Trail.
Smoky Hill plays host to Cherry Creek at 7 p.m. Jan. 24 as well.
The Buffaloes come calling on the Raptors at 7 p.m. Feb. 14 at The Nest.
“Now we get to do it all over again, but that’s going to prepare us for the playoffs and it’s a lot of fun,” Krapcha said. “I can’t wait to play all of these teams again. Tonight, it was a blast. Win or lose, it’s a lot of fun.”
Courtney Oakes is Aurora Sentinel Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
EAGLECREST 50, SMOKY HILL 49
Score by quarters:
Eaglecrest 18 15 11 6 — 50
Smoky Hill 16 10 11 12 — 49
XaiV’ion Jackson 4 1-2 9, Branden Bunn 1 3-9 6, Morgan Brown 4 1-5 9, Aaron Bokol 4 1-2 9, Ty Robinson 1 0-0 3, Darius Houston 1 0-0 3, Thomas Dangerfield 3 0-0 7, T. Bile 1 0-0 2. Totals 19 6-18 50.
SMOKY HILL (49)
Quinten Rock 2 2-2 6, John Harge 4 1-2 10, Will Becker 2 2-9 6, Kenny Foster 7 7-9 22, Kyle Cabs 0 1-2 1, Eric Williams 1 2-3 4, Mue Muwwakkil 0 0-0 0. Totals 16 15-27 49.
3-point field goals — Eaglecrest (4): Thomas Dangerfield 2, Branden Bunn, Darius Houston. Smoky Hill (2): Kenny Foster, John Harge. Total fouls — Eaglecrest 24, Smoky Hill 20. Fouled out — None. Technical fouls — None.