GLENWOOD SPRINGS (3/4/20) — The pre-game message on the Glenwood Springs boys basketball locker room white board was the same, and so was the outcome as the Demons won their Sweet 16 match with Green Mountain, 56-50, to host upset winner Pueblo West Saturday in the 4A Great 8.
The Demons defeated Weld Central 55-30 in their opening playoff game, getting past their first post-season opponent for only the second time in the last ten years. That previous win, in 2017 under coach Cory Hitchcock, was followed by a 100-49 thrashing by Pueblo West.
Second-year coach Fred Heisel repeated his pre-game white board mantra after the second-seeded Demons (22-3) held off a barrage of 4th-quarter three-pointers by the 15th-ranked Rams (18-7) for their eighteenth straight victory: “We had to outwork ‘em on defense and rebounding. Every time, our offense comes from defense.”
Glenwood got off to a great start defensively, unveiling a seldom-used 2-3 zone that limited Green Mountain to a single basket in the Demons’ 11-2 opening quarter. Three uncharacteristic turnovers also slowed the home team’s offense at the game’s outset. “John (Iuele) kept us going,” Heisel said of his senior point guard, who scored all seven of his team’s points in a sluggish first seven minutes, twice driving past 6-5 shotblocker Jason Luzayadio and sinking a 3-pointer for a 7-2 lead at the 2:33 mark.
Mitchell Burt’s layup with a minute left in the quarter and free throws by Adam Schrader and Patrick Young gave Glenwood its nine-point advantage going into the second quarter.
The Rams surged back with an 8-2 counter attack in the first four minutes of period two, closing within 13-10. They would not score again in the half, missing their last five 3-point attempts and AJ Adams blocking leading scorer Blake Schell’s lone drive inside.
That defense was crucial as Glenwood maintained its 3-point lead despite going scoreless more than four minutes, missing four shots and committing four turnovers.
With 1:33 to go in the half, Burt’s 3-pointer ended the drought and ignited a 9-0 finish for a 22-10 halftime lead. The run featured an offensive rebound by Will Narvaez, which led to an acrobatic, twisting layup off the glass by Burt, followed by a press-breaking pass from Burt to Iuele for another layup. The capper was a tipped ball by Iuele that went to Young, who returned it to Iuele for a layup that just beat the buzzer.
Green Mountain, which attempted over 400 three-pointers (Glenwood, less than 240, by comparison) this season, was just 1-for-10 in the first half, but hit its first two in the third quarter. Those were matched by Burt and Young, alternating between jumpers by Iuele and Burt, as the Demons increased their lead to 38-24 by quarter’s end.
Blake Nieslanik’s 3-point play on Glenwood’s first possession of the fourth quarter matched the Demons game-high 17-point cushion, 41-24, but Green Mountain fought back from long distance, making 5-of-8 in the period. Iuele and Burt countered the Rams’ early push with treys, for what seemed an insurmountable 49-33 lead with 4:25 to go.
But Schell hit back-to-back three’s in a 12-2 run that closed the score to 51-45 in a 2-minute span, coinciding with Glenwood’s return to a man-to-man defense, and spreading uncertainty through the packed house with 1:39 remaining.
Green Mountain was forced to foul and Young increased the lead to eight, making both ends of a one-and-one with 1:16 left. Adams rebounded a Ram miss and was fouled, missed the free throw, but Burt tipped the carom to Narvaez, who was also fouled. The Demon senior post missed his attempt, but Young pulled down an errant Ram triple, and Iuele’s 3-for-4 at the line was enough to counter a last-second 3-pointer by Green Mountain.
Iuele, whose 19 points were matched by Burt, said, “We knew we had to play our very best.” Young poured in 9 of his 10 points after halftime and dished out 7 assists. Burt had 6 rebounds and 4 assists, along with making 3-of-5 three-pointers. Narvaez grabbed 10 rebounds to help the Demons outrebound the Rams, 26-20 despite the visitors 6-6, 6-5, 6-4 front line.
Glenwood will host tenth-seeded Pueblo West (19-6), which upset seventh-ranked Harrison, 56-54 in its Sweet 16 game. “They were both ranked number-one at sometime during the season,” Heisel said before the outcome was known, and Iuele had the last word: “Every game will be tough from now on.”
The Demons and their fans are hoping for a different outcome than the last time they met the Cyclones.