GREENWOOD VILLAGE | Morgan Gregory saw his Cherokee Trail boys basketball team do some “inexplicable” things Wednesday night in its Centennial League opener and not in a good way.
However, the Cougars’ coach also saw his maturing team overcome those lapses with a strong defensive effort and improved confidence on the offensive end on its way to a 56-50 overtime upset of Class 5A No. 4 Cherry Creek on the Bruins’ home floor to open Centennial League play.
Sophomore Jaizec Lottie scored four straight points to break open a tie game in overtime and finished with a team-high 11 points, while senior Izaiah Lottie and junior David Thornton added 10 points apiece for Cherokee Trail, which won its first game out of winter break to improve to 5-4.
“It was a huge win for us, that was a good team that was off to a hot start, so that was a really quality win we need to fight our way up in the Centennial League,” Gregory said. “We did some pretty inexplicable things, but our commitment to playing hard and to keep fighting is our No. 1 quality.”
The Cougars joined three other Aurora teams with victories to open Centennial League play, as Eaglecrest downed Smoky Hill 86-64 behind 26 points from Blend Avdili and 22 for Colbey Ross, Overland topped Mullen 64-50 with Austin Conway striking for 23 points and Grandview used a big second to half to down Arapahoe 71-62.
Cherokee Trail — which also owns a victory over defending 5A state champion and 10th-ranked Denver East this season — led for much of the game, but never could quite shake Cherry Creek (7-2), which actually led by two points with less than a minute left in regulation.
After Hayden Parr helped the Cougars by missing a free throw to keep it a 45-43 game, Cherokee Trail junior Ronnie Barfield calmly drained a midrange jump shot near the top of the key with 21 seconds remaining to knot the game. Thornton swatted away a Cherry Creek shot attempt on the defensive end and another shot after an ill-advised save missed the mark to send the game to a four-minute overtime.
“That was a huge shot for Ronnie and it’s a very makeable shot for him from there,” Gregory said. “It was good to see that go down at any time of the game, but especially when we needed it. He shot it with no hesitation at all, so that could be big for his confidence.”
The Cougars ended up outscoring the Bruins 11-5 in the extra period, preventing their opponents from even a single second chance shot opportunity.
Jaizec Lottie finished 3-for-10 from the free throw line, but followed up a pair of misses with a steal and a layup to put Cherokee Trail ahead for good with 1:10 left in overtime. He made 1-of-2 from the line on the next trip down, then came up with a defensive rebound and was fouled again to make another free throw, with the Cherry Creek crowd serenading him with a chant of “Pressure! Pressure! Pressure!”
“That motivated me; the free throw line was just in and out, so I’ve just got to keep working at it,” Lottie said. “My shot wasn’t falling tonight, but I had to get my team set up.”
Ammon Johnson and KJ Sapp also made free throws in the final 20 seconds to seal the win for the Cougars, who were just 13-for-24 from the charity stripe.
Gregory knows missed free throws and mental lapses will eventually cost any team in Centennial League play, but he remained pleased with how his team overcame the adversity in a difficult environment to improve to 3-4 all-time at Cherry Creek.
“We’re going to be tested like this pretty much every night in this league, so we just have to continue the grind,” said Gregory, whose team can go for a sweep of the Bruins on Jan. 30.
Next up for Cherokee Trail is a game at Smoky Hill (2-7, 0-1) on Friday night.
Courtney Oakes is Sports Editor of the Aurora Sentinel. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. FB: Aurora Prep Sentinel
CHEROKEE TRAIL 56, (4) CHERRY CREEK 50 (OT)
Score by quarters:
Cher. Trail 15 10 12 8 11 — 56
Cher. Creek 10 14 7 14 5 — 50
CHEROKEE TRAIL (56)
KJ Sapp 2 3-4 7, David Thornton 4 2-3 10, Jaizec Lottie 4 3-10 11, Ronnie Barfield 3 2-3 8, Izaiah Lottie 5 0-0 10, Brandon Scott 1 2-2 4, Ammon Johnson 1 1-2 3, Isiah Gilbert 1 0-0 3, Drequez Harvey 0 0-0 0, Jordan Rodgers 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 13-24 56.
CHERRY CREEK (50)
Caesar Jones 2 1-1 6, Blake Goldsberry 2 0-0 5, Will Halfon 5 2-2 13, Will Bower 0 0-2 0, Hayden Parr 4 5-7 14, Jerome LaNeir 2 1-3 5, Carter Van Gytenbeek 0 0-0 0. Totals 15 9-15 50.
3-point field goals — Cherokee Trail: Isiah Gilbert; Cherry Creek (5): Blake Goldsberry, Will Halfon, Caesar Jones, Nick Long, Hayden Parr. Total fouls — Cherokee Trail 17, Cherry Creek 15. Fouled out — Cherokee Trail: David Thornton; Cherry Creek: Blake Goldsberry. Technical fouls — None.