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Jason Holt’s shot is blocked by Flatiron’s Jonah Cox during a nonconference game against Flatirons Academy on Saturday, January 11, 2019 at ECA High School. (Lindsey Smith, The Gazette)

The Evangelical Christian Academy boys’ basketball team stormed through the first half of the regular season with a perfect record, defeating opponents by 30 points on average.

It was clear there was something missing from the Eagles’ season so far — a challenge.

With hopes of another deep postseason run in the Class 1A playoffs after placing fifth in 2019, ECA knew it needed to make the most of its competitive nonconference games — starting with Flatirons Academy.

The Eagles and the Bison battled to the brink and had the packed ECA crowd holding their breath in the final minutes. But free-throw shooting and clutch rebounding in an energetic second half lifted Flatirons to a 56-49 victory to hand ECA its first loss.

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“This is a real test of another really good team and we needed this,” said ECA coach Bob Wingett. “Even not coming out on top it’s something we need to get the fire back in our belly. And how we work on that is creating more energy and being more aggressive ourselves.”

It was a back-and-forth battle from the beginning, but the Eagles (7-1) scored nine straight right before the half to enter the locker room with a 31-24 lead.

But the Bison had a secret weapon step up in the second half.

Senior Jonah Cox, who entered Saturday’s game averaging 11.6 points, had just two in the first half, but stormed out to score seven in the third quarter as the Bison (7-2) chipped away at the deficit.

Cox’s shooting, rebounding and tight defense wreaked havoc on ECA’s momentum as Flatirons eventually took the lead with 5 minutes left in regulation.

“Isaac Long (6-foot-5 sophomore) plays really hard against me in practice, so when I’m on the court I just pretend I am playing against him and just try to have fun,” Cox said. “We have played teams like this before with a lot of talent and we have been in these types of games before so we just run hard and try to have a ton of fun with it.”

ECA tied it up again with 1:38 to play thanks to a forced turnover under the Flatirons net by Landon Bunker, who swung it to Jason Holt for two. But as the Bison regained possession with the clock ticking down ECA was forced to foul, allowing Flatirons to shoot 7 for 10 from the line in the final minutes for the win.

Holt, ECA’s leading scorer, was cleared to play by his physical therapist just an hour before the scheduled tipoff on Saturday.

The senior, who averages 18.5 points, suffered an avulsion fracture in his left foot before the winter break. Wingett said Holt’s physical therapist compared it to a badly sprained ankle.

“It was kind of scary to be honest, because I didn’t know if I was going to get hurt again,” Holt said. “But that fear goes away when you get on the court and it’s fun again. It’s just scary right before and at halftime.”

Holt led all scorers with 22 points despite "not being himself," according to Wingett.

“It was close,” Wingett said. “But it wasn’t him, so we also had to overcome that with him not really being himself.”

Holt agreed that despite the loss, the experience was vital to "light the fire" for the Eagles.

“It was a lot of fun to play in a game like this,” Holt said. “We haven’t had a game like this so far this season so it was fun trying to get everybody good shots and it was a good experience for us.

“I think honestly it’s better for us to lose now than later on because we only have four or five close games like this coming up until the tournaments so it’s good for us to get that fire going again.”