Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
The first half was a bit shaky, and some missed free throws led to a deceptive score at the end.
But in between, the Durango High School boys basketball team was at its unified best.
After trailing at halftime, the Demons embarked on a 14-0 run in the third quarter to seize control and eventually lead by as many as 22 points before downing rival Montezuma-Cortez 56-44 on Thursday at DHS.
The Panthers grabbed a 19-16 halftime lead as both teams struggled a bit offensively early. They built the lead to 21-18 with 5 minutes, 40 seconds to play in the third quarter, and then the wheels came off courtesy of the Demons’ defense.
Cortez turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions, with a layup by Willy Frownfelter and a 3 by Ty Elliott in that span whipping the crowd into a frenzy, while putbacks by Elliott and Trent Andrews capped a blazing stretch by DHS that saw the 21-18 deficit become a 32-21 lead.
“It was just solely on energy. You can’t go through the motions on defense,” DHS head coach Alan Batiste said. “You just can’t do it. And once the boys brought some energy and were playing defense with a sense of urgency, it creates turnovers.”
Elliott’s energy off the bench and hot hand were a huge factor after halftime. The senior sat out the first half for what Batiste called disciplinary reasons, then went 3 of 6 from the field for a team-leading 12 points and helped spark the Durango defense, which forced 25 total turnovers.
“I was really ready. I took that whole first half off. My legs were just getting warmed up, and then once I got in the game, I finally started getting my legs going a little bit,” said Elliott, son of Ahne and Russ Elliott. “Then I started finding it.”
The game wasn’t quite as close as the final score indicated, however. DHS made just 19 of 40 free throws, missing a bevy down the stretch to allow the Panthers to cut into the deficit. It’s an area the Demons (10-4, 3-2 Southwestern League) need to shore up with potentially close contests looming the next two weekends.
“That’s been our big thing all year. We’ve got to knock down our free throws,” Elliott said. “It’s killing us right now. We’re going to find it, and once we find it, we’re going to start winning a lot more games.”
Nick Hamlin battled foul trouble all night but still mustered 10 points. While he was out with four fouls for a good chunk of the second half, Trent Andrews helped keep Durango afloat in the post, pulling in 10 rebounds and scoring six points.
Frownfelter chipped in a strong defensive performance off the bench to go with his six points, as well.
“Those are the little plays that win ballgames. That’s what we need,” Batiste said.
Briston Walker paced the Panthers (3-11, 0-5 SWL) with a double-double, scoring a game-high 14 points to go with 11 rebounds. Brackin Whiteskunk had 11 points, but Cortez was doomed by abysmal outside shooting, making just 2 of 20 attempts from 3-point range.
Durango responded from a poor-shooting first half to hit at a 46-percent clip after halftime, finishing with a 38-percent success rate for the game.
The Demons will continue their five-game homestand next weekend with Fruita Monument on Friday and Grand Junction Central on Saturday.