Hoops: Second-half surge propels Aspen boys
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN – Jake Nugent’s broken foot kept him on the bench for Aspen’s first four basketball games, but it did not keep him from practicing his free-throw shooting.
“All I did when I was hurt, even with the boot on, was practice. One week, I shot 1,200 free throws,” Nugent said. “That proved helpful out on the court.”
The senior’s teammates must have followed his lead: The Skiers missed just one of 19 attempts from the charity stripe in Thursday’s much-anticipated 3A Western Slope opener against visiting rival Roaring Fork. That effort, coupled with suffocating defense and efficient offense in the second half, helped Aspen overcome a sluggish start and pull out a 55-45 win – its third straight.
“Characteristically, we’re not that good from the line,” Skiers head coach Steve Ketchum said. “They were solid tonight, though, and that helped us keep a cushion.
“It was a little rough early on – we looked nervous, and were playing raggedy. They were not pressing and not even trying to press, and we had six turnovers – that shouldn’t happen. To Roaring Fork’s credit, they played great, almost flawless.”
Dakotah Grett led the early surge, nailing a long 3 in the opening minute, then picking off a pass and converting a three-point play as the Rams scored the game’s first eight points.
Later, Grett drained another 3 to give the visitors an 11-2 edge.
“I was a little concerned, but this is how things usually start against this team,” Nugent said. “Our team has so much heart, though, and we believe in each other. I knew we could pull through. … Our offense was struggling, but our defense hung in there. If it didn’t, we would’ve been down 20-2 or something.”
Clayton Crawford converted two big 3s in the waning moments to trim the Skiers’ deficit to eight after the first.
In the second quarter, Aspen utilized balanced scoring and some adept foul shooting to pull even. Despite having star transfer Austin Roark relegated to the bench because of foul trouble, Aspen closed with a 12-4 spurt in the final 6 minutes, 6 seconds of the first half to knot things at 22.
A 10-0 run in the first three-plus minutes of the second half, one highlighted by two 3s from diminutive guard James Powell, helped the Skiers seize control.
“We got more aggressive offensively,” Ketchum said. “The zone was hurting us, but we made some adjustments at the half and scored quickly and easily at the start of the second half, and they got out of it. Once they did, that opened the lane a little bit more and made it even easier for us. And I think our defense played really well down the stretch.”
Nugent provided an instant impact in the middle of the Aspen defense. He and a host of Skiers kept Roaring Fork’s Trae Moxley at bay for much of the night, holding the junior to just seven points.
“He’s a great ballplayer. He’s got serious skill and serious size,” Nugent said of Moxley. “I’m always ready to take on the challenge. That’s my role on the team, to take on any challenge Coach throws at me. … It was awesome to come out in my first game and contribute. I felt right at home.”
Nugent’s greatest contribution came on offense with little more than a minute remaining in the fourth. After Moxley converted a three-point play to pull the Rams to within three, Nugent stole a pass, absorbed a bump and finished in transition. He nailed the ensuing free throw – he was 5-for-5 from the line on the night – to give Aspen some welcome breathing room.
“His defense was great, his effort was great. He brings a lot of energy to our team, and we really need him,” Ketchum said of Nugent.
Nugent finished with 11 points for the Skiers. Quinn Morehead pitched in with 14, Roark added eight, and Powell scored 10 – all in the second half.
Grett finished with 18 for Roaring Fork, which dropped to 2-4.
“I’m really proud of them. This is a big win,” Ketchum said. “After tomorrow, we’ll know for sure (where we stand among Slope title contenders), but I think we’re off to a very good start.”
The Skiers visit Coal Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday.
ASPEN – The missed free throws and errant lay-ups piled up early for Aspen in Friday night’s conference opener. The Skiers could not recover.
Despite some inspired play in the final two quarters – it twice pulled to within four points – Aspen could not overcome its slow start, falling to the Rams, 47-40.
“We had our opportunities, but we didn’t capitalize when we had the chance,” Skiers head coach Jeremy Haack said. “We dug ourselves a big hole, but give the girls credit. They battled back in the second half.”
Roaring Fork surrendered just two Aspen field goals – both to Bailey Everhart – during a second quarter in which it amassed a 22-14 lead, thanks in large part to the play of Hattie Gianinetti and Maddie Nieslanik, who combined for 12 points in the game’s first 16 minutes.
Nieslanik and Kaleigh Wisroth shook free for easy buckets in the opening minutes of the third quarter, and the Rams appeared poised to pull away. The Skiers countered with full-court pressure, however, and scored the game’s next eight points – four of which came from senior Annie Graber.
Aspen pulled to within four with 1:30 remaining in the fourth following two free throws from Anna Stevens, but Gianinetti came up big once more, answering right back with a drive and score off the glass. She finished with eight points.
The Skiers (3-3) wound up dropping their third straight.
“We turned the ball over too much and made some passes that they were able to take,” Haack said. “We’ve got to get better in that area.”
Everhart finished with 12 points for Aspen, which hits the road to take on Coal Ridge at
5:30 p.m. Friday.
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Overall state champions in high school skiing are determined by combining results from Alpine and Nordic. Aspen swept both the boys and girls state titles in 2020, just as they did in 2018. The AHS boys also won the state title in 2019, while the girls finished as the state runner-up.