Steamboat Springs Delta coach Joe Mock didn't single out one player his team was supposed to contain. The Panthers believed they needed to stop everyone. Turns out the Steamboat Springs boys basketball team nearly did the job themselves.
Uncharacteristic turnovers and poor offensive decisions down the stretch nearly cost the Sailors a league game. The six-point lead Steamboat had entering the final minute proved to be enough, however, as the Sailors held on for a 59-57 win Friday night.
Steamboat (8-1 overall, 2-0 league) entered Friday's game with one loss and a No. 5 state ranking, so it seemed obvious Delta was going to give the home team its best shot.
The Panthers outplayed Steamboat for all but six minutes in the third quarter when the Sailors were able to establish as much as a 10-point lead.
"We got lucky (Friday)," Steamboat coach Kelly Meek said.
And Meek doesn't like to rely on luck.
"They weren't focused as a group and it showed, too," Meek said. "That's the most undisciplined we've played this year."
Steamboat's poor finish was nearly matched by a shaky start. The Sailors received a technical foul before tipoff for an illegal pregame dunk.
Delta's player missed both free throws, and Meek preferred not to think about what might have happened had the Panthers had those extra two points.
Sophomore Cameron Burney said Steamboat played Delta in a summer camp and wasn't impressed at that time. His opinion of Panthers post players Blake Carlquist and Bryce Atchley changed Friday.
The two combined for 38 of the team's 57 points, as they repeatedly went over, around and through Steamboat's post defenders.
"We played unfundamental basketball," Burney said. "We had intensity for five or six minutes in the third and that's it."
The lead changed 10 times in the first half of Friday's game, and Delta actually went into the locker room up 35-33, capitalizing off a Steamboat turnover with 11 seconds left in the half.
Meek said his players got a stiff talking to at intermission, and they responded in the third, outscoring the Panthers 14-8 behind solid defense and aggressive rebounding.
Steamboat pushed the lead to 12 at the outset of the fourth. Delta pulled to within seven, but with just more than a minute remaining, it seemed unlikely the Panthers would be able to dent it much further.
Delta didn't even have a team foul in the second half, so it couldn't get the ball back off missed Steamboat free throws. The Panthers had to rely on the Sailors to make mistakes.
And they did.
Two fouls and two turnovers stopped the clock or gave Delta free chances to score. The Panthers pulled to within two points with 9.5 seconds on the clock.
Standing underneath the Panthers' basket, the Sailors needed to inbound the ball five times before time expired.
The Sailors came through. Neither Mock nor Meek could remember an ending like Friday.
Senior John Daschle led Steamboat with 18 points. Senior Cory Moore added 15, while Burney chipped in with eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds. Senior Cody Sherrill had nine points and five rebounds.
"The difference was in the beginning of the third quarter," Mock said. "Steamboat came out strong and we came out flat. Our kids worked hard. It just didn't come out in our favor."
Steamboat turns around and hosts Palisade today at about 6 p.m. Meek expects the Bulldogs' best game as well but doubted his team would play uninspired ball two nights in a row.
"Knowing what I know about these kids, I'd be real surprised," he said.