Lewis-Palmer’s Tyler Owens lofted the ball high above the rim. This was, in its essence, a dare for Sand Creek’s entire basketball team. Owens was wondering if the Scorpions could enter L-P’s rather lofty air space.
Justin Smith seized the alley-oop seconds into the second quarter, left the rim shaking and set the tone for Lewis-Palmer’s convincing 64-48 victory over Sand Creek.
Last season, Lewis-Palmer won a state title on the back of 6-foot-10 senior center Josh Scott, one of the most dominating players in state history.
This season’s team has a strong chance to repeat. The Rangers boast the state’s best big man tandem in Smith and Jordan Scott. The Rangers feature a tough, confident point guard in Owens.
And the Rangers have a point to make. The players Josh Scott left behind have enormous respect for the big man who now competes at CU.
“But we want people to know the state title was more of a team effort than just 6-foot-10 in the middle,” Owens said.
The path to another title will be rugged. D’Evelyn features the state’s best scorer in Luke Stratman. Wasson players should find inspiration as their school faces its twilight months.
And Sand Creek could block the Rangers' path. The Scorpions looked a little lost Tuesday. Josh Smith scored only five points, and the team had none of the swagger it displayed just two weeks ago when it dropped Lewis-Palmer.
For a few minutes Tuesday, it looked as if the Scorpions might ride into L-P’s gym and swipe a victory. Sand Creek jumped to a 10-3 lead as the Rangers wandered aimlessly.
Lewis-Palmer coach Russ McKinstry has waited for his team to grow up. For much of the season, Owens, Smith and Scott carried their teammates to wins. The Rangers bench looked timid.
Tuesday revealed a team that has grown up. Bench players who had looked nervous earlier this season played with boldness.
It helps that McKinstry is so calm. In the third quarter, Owens was beaten badly on a backdoor cut. His error resulted in a foul and three-point play.
He turned to face McKinstry, who waited for him at the end of the bench.
“They’re good at backdoor cuts,” McKinstry said calmly.
Owens nodded his head. He knew where his coach wanted his mind to dwell:
“It’s over,” McKinstry said. “Let’s move on.”
The Rangers have declined to get lost in the past. Last season’s team was mighty and mistakes could be erased by the big man in the middle.
This season’s team might be a little more hungry. The Rangers have something to prove.
With 3:55 left in the game Tuesday, the Scorpions were still hanging around, down by eight.
Scott lofted a 3-point shot, which swished. L-P’s student section erupted with noise, but McKinstry barely flinched on the sideline and the Rangers followed his lead.
The defending state champs have developed a calm confidence. The Rangers are plotting a repeat.
I would not bet against them.
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