Aspen boys survive nail-biter with Gunnison
December 20, 2008
ASPEN ” Gunnison forward Justin Fuller’s shot rattled around the rim for a few tense seconds Friday night.
Aspen’s Walker Abrahamovich then soared over two Cowboys players to secure the rebound before being fouled with five seconds to play in overtime.
The Skiers boys basketball team had the ball in its hands, but not the game. At least not yet.
Abrahamovich, the senior transfer from Roaring Fork, strolled to the line with his team clinging to a 65-64 lead. His first free throw missed to the right. His second stretched the lead to two.
The Skiers faithful, standing now for more than two minutes, held their collective breath as Gunnison guard Emmet Guy drove into the lane, then kicked the ball to wide-open teammate Ian Kahn. Kahn failed to get a shot off before the buzzer sounded, however, and the Skiers escaped with a 66-64 win.
“It was an ugly win, but we’ll take it,” Aspen head coach Steve Ketchum said in the locker room, finally taking a moment to exhale. “These guys keep surprising me. Every time they look really dismal, and you think the writing’s on the wall and it’s over, they pull through.”
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Barely. The Skiers (5-0 overall, 2-0 3A Western Slope) squandered an eight-point lead in the first quarter ” the direct result of multiple ill-advised shots, a poor performance from the line and extensive foul trouble ” and needed some last-second heroics to force overtime.
Aspen, ranked eighth in the latest 3A Rocky Mountain News poll, trailed by as many as seven during a third quarter in which it went scoreless for the first 4 minutes, 25 seconds. It trimmed that deficit to three entering the fourth. Abrahamovich gave the Skiers their first lead in nearly two quarters when, with less than four minutes remaining in regulation, he shook free underneath and finished off the glass to put Aspen ahead, 52-51.
Matt Holmes extended that lead to four with a 3-pointer from the wing, but the Cowboys hung close. Kahn scored in the paint on the ensuing possession. Later, Guy hit two free throws, trimming Gunnison’s deficit to one with 1:12 to play.
The Cowboys forced a steal on the next Aspen possession, then called a timeout with 58 seconds left. On the ensuing play, they looked to Fuller underneath and, just like he did all night, the senior converted on an off-balance shot to give Gunnison a 59-58 lead.
After another Aspen turnover, Fuller sank two free throws to extend the advantage to three with 30 seconds left. He finished with a team-high 20 points.
The Skiers were in need of a spark. Trevor Watson delivered. After Holmes missed a second-consecutive free throw with 22 seconds on the clock, Watson pulled down the offensive board and scored. After an Aspen foul, Watson secured a rebound when Guy missed his second free throw attempt with 17 seconds to play.
On the ensuing Aspen possession following a timeout, Watson sealed off his defender, hauled in a well-placed bounce pass from Abrahamovich, made a quick move to his left and banked a shot home to tie the game.
“It was a set play called Tiger,” Watson said. “I was supposed to be the guy passing the ball, but I happened to be in the spot and we ran it anyway. … It was scary out there. We have to stop doing that, play harder in the first half.”
The Skiers nearly pulled off the improbable when they intercepted the ensuing in-bounds pass and Holmes had a clear look in the lane just before the buzzer. But the shot sailed long, and Aspen had to settle for overtime.
Such was a daunting prospect considering three players were saddled with four fouls and another ” senior Nick Codd ” had already fouled out.
“It was the worst possible scenario,” Ketchum said.
But one Aspen made the most of. Walker Moriarty hit one of two free throws in the opening 10 seconds of the four-minute extra frame, then Watson scored underneath, stretching the lead to 65-62. He finished with 17 points.
Kolby Pringle’s basket pulled the Cowboys to within one. But they could get no closer, thanks in part to Abrahamovich’s key rebound.
“It seemed like that ball was [on the rim] for a a minute,” added the 6-foot-8 forward, who finished with a team-high 24 points. “It feels great to pull this one out.”
The Skiers looked like they would cruise to victory after opening the game on an 8-0 run. The Cowboys stayed in it, though, thanks to clutch 3-point and free throw shooting. They hit six 3’s and went 18-of-24 from the line. Gunnison missed just once from the line in 13 attempts in the second half and overtime.
Aspen was just 10-of-20 from the line, and unquestioned team leader Holmes struggled most of the night. He finished with 12 points ” 14 fewer than in the previous game against Hotchkiss.
“Matt had an off night, but his teammates really came through for him,” Ketchum said. “We’ll take a win any way we can get it.”
The Skiers next play at 4 p.m. Saturday in Olathe.
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