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Defense powers Demons to senior day win

Grand Junction’s 31 points on Saturday was the second-lowest amount Durango has allowed this season
Zach Unruh of Durango High School pushes off his defender while driving to the basket on Saturday while playing Grand Junction at DHS. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

The Durango Demons showed their defensive capabilities in both man-to-man and 2-3 zone defenses, tallying 19 steals en route to a 40-31 home victory against Grand Junction on Saturday.

The Demons improved to 9-10 overall and 2-3 in the 6A/5A Southwestern League following their senior day win, shooting 44% from the field, 31% from the 3-point line and 40% from the free-throw line.

Grand Junction fell to 14-7 overall and 2-4 in the 6A/5A Southwestern League after shooting 31% from the field, 27% from beyond the arc and 75% from the free-throw line.

“It was good to get a win for (the seniors),” Durango coach Alan Batiste said. “We just talked about pregame doing it for your brothers that are leaving. They responded and it was a good team effort. We switched some things up this week with giving them a foundation and a safe haven with adding a motion offense … it helped us out today and our defense stepped up.”

Junior guard Noah Miles led the Demons once again with 17 points on 5 of 16 shooting from the field, 4 of 12 shooting from 3-point range and 3 of 6 from the foul line. Miles also had five steals and eight turnovers.

Batiste said he and the coaching staff have been telling Miles to drive to the basket to open up his game.

Senior guard Zach Unruh had nine points on 4 of 5 shooting from the field and 1 of 2 from the free-throw line along with six steals. Senior center Jacob Neubert had eight points, six rebounds and three blocks.

Grand Junction’s Declan Lake had 15 points.

Between the girls and boys games, seniors from both teams were honored. The Durango boys have four seniors in Unruh, Neubert, Tyler Harms and Jebby Holt.

“They all have their personal stories and it’s a small group of four seniors but it’s good to see them thrive,” Batiste said. “It’s good to watch them all grow up and grow up very fast because they all had a role they had to cover which they probably didn’t think they’d have to do. I’m excited for them and I’m glad they got their last Saturday victory.”

The Demons jumped out to an 8-3 lead, but baskets inside by the Tigers’ Will Applegate and Andrew Henderson cut the Durango lead to 8-6. A Miles 3-pointer and a great pass by Unruh off the pick and roll to Neubert pushed the lead back to 13-8 with 1:30 left. The Demons led 15-12 after the first.

Durango took its time with its possessions to start the second quarter. Brady Hoerl started off the scoring with a nice pullup jumper on the right baseline. Miles showed off some great hands with multiple steals in the second quarter. Unruh had a nice steal and score to push the lead to 19-12 with 3:30 left in the second.

Applegate was tripped with a second left on the clock, making two free throws with Grand Junction in the bonus to cut the Durango lead to 19-17 at half.

Unruh had a great drive and kick to Miles for a corner 3-pointer to start the third. Unruh then hit a midrange pullup to push the lead to 24-17 before Lake hit a Tigers 3-pointer from the wing.

Miles hit another 3-pointer as the Demons found openings on the perimeter. Durango was playing a 2-3 zone in the third quarter, but the Tigers were able to get the ball inside. Senior forward Tyler Harms had a great defensive sequence where he walled up on the post against a Grand Junction big, blocked the shot and got the rebound.

The Demons struggled with sloppy turnovers to end the third. Unruh had a great steal at the top of the 2-3 zone but had to go out with a wrist injury with 20 seconds left. Durango led 29-24.

Miles hit a contested corner 3-pointer to start the fourth. The Demons guards at the top of the zone were getting deflections.

Unruh was back after falling on his wrist and made a tough layup in transition to put Durango up 34-26 with 4:25 left. Unruh ran in transition on the next play and threw a lob to Neubert, who slammed it home to get the crowd on its feet.

“That’s our key, we’re long, we’re a big group,” Batiste said about his team’s defense. “Coach Fitz (Durango Assistant Athletic Director Tim Fitzpatrick) happened to notice and we’ve been saying it but he really pointed out our hands are down. If we’ve got a 6-6 kid he turns into 5-10 because his hands are down. With our hands up, we’re a hard team to see the basket or even try and get through those lanes.”

The Demons looked to chew clock in the last three minutes and soon found themselves in the bonus after being fouled multiple times.

Miles missed two free throws but redeemed himself with a steal which led to him getting fouled, sinking two free throws and the Demons led 38-28 with two minutes left.

Durango closed out the game with some Neubert blocks and some made free throws.

The Demons return to action at 7 p.m. Monday in a rescheduled home game against Grand Junction Central.


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