Known for their offensive prowess through the first six games, the Indians’ defense potential was on display during their 50-23 win over Grand Junction Central on Saturday. Playing tight man-to-man defense, Montrose limited the Warriors to six points (zero in the second quarter) in 16 minutes of play, and headed into the half with a 28-6 lead.
The 23 points were Central’s lowest output this year, and came two days after they defeated Fruita 50-42 at home.
“I thought our defense was great,” coach Ryan Voehringer said. “We worried about their ball screen game — we didn’t switch anything. We just hedged and got back. I thought our help side was good, and anytime you can hold a team like Central who just beat Fruita to six in the first and zero in the second, can’t complain about that much.”
Hedging and getting back to their man, Montrose was active and disruptive throughout Saturday’s contest, experiencing just a few defensive miscues in the second half. The team continued to limit Central, allowing six points in the third quarter and 11 points in the fourth, with Montrose’s reserves receiving the bulk of the playing time to close the game out.
“We played really, really good team defense,” said senior Jordan Jennings, who finished with five points and an assist and a steal. “Talked a lot on defense and our communication was great. We work hard in practice on defense and it showed [Saturday].”
The win was Montrose’s seventh as the team hit the halfway mark on the season. Luke Hutto’s 15 points led the Indians, and he added seven rebounds, a pair of steals and two blocks.
The junior looked as spry as ever, darting towards the basket with force and finishing with a soft touch. He’s scored in double-digits in seven straight games, and 10 of his last 12 games (dating back to last season, where he was held under 10 points three times in 21 games).
“I thought he looked great,” Voehringer said. “I thought he wasn’t forcing the issue. He got doubled a couple times and found the open guy. When they couldn't double him, we hit a few threes. When he’s isolated one-on-one, he’s tough to defend.
“What I was happy with was his patience and he let the game come to him. He wasn’t forcing it.”
As a team, the Indians, too, have a scoring streak. They’ve yet to score under 50 points this season, and on Saturday, worked through their offensive sets with patience and poise, finding the open man consistently. Beyond Hutto’s one-on-one drives to the bucket, Montrose swung the ball around the key, with Jennings and Fletcher Cheezum notching three-point makes.
“I thought our ball movement was much better [Saturday],” Voehringer said. “We weren’t forcing the issue. Two to three ball reversals and then we can get something out of it, instead of one or two and then ‘it’s my turn to score.’ We’ve got four or five weapons that can score. If we move the ball, we’re pretty tough to stop. Our key is to go inside out … our inside out game was pretty good [Saturday].”
In addition to Saturday, the Indians’ start has come with limited fans in the stands, a stark difference from previous years. Less fans means a quieter gym, and though the fans that can attend are still making some noise, the atmosphere isn’t the same as when the stands are packed, offering the team a wealth of crowd energy to work off of.
“We have a good bond outside basketball,” said Jennings on the team’s start. “We all get along, so that’s good. One thing is energy — with not being able to have fans or anything, there’s not a lot of energy in the gym, so it comes before the game. Before the game, we’re getting energized and getting excited for the game, so we all work together great.”
Cheezum and Trey Reese added nine points each on Saturday, combining to go 4-for-8 from three. Julian Pena and Anthony Martinez led the Warriors in scoring, with six points each. Central shot 29% from the field, and were 0-for-6 in three-point attempts.
Coming off a two-game losing streak where Montrose lost by a combined 10 points, there was a sense of urgency as the girls led Central 29-27 with 3:50 left in the third quarter. The Indians went on a 6-2 run to close the quarter, and immediately followed that with a surging run to start the fourth, a 6-0 run to take a 41-35 lead after Central tied the game at 35-35.
The run sparked a successful final quarter for the Indians, who tightly outscored the Warriors 21-19 to finish the game. An and-one finish and free throw make from Jaycie Casebolt pushed the lead to 46-38, and a flurry of fouls from Central put the Indians on the line consecutively.
A trio of free throw makes from Casebolt and one from Hailey Sella sealed the game, a 56-50 win, as the Indians who were on the floor rushed to their bench, pleased with the victory.
The girls, much like in the boys game, played well defensively, with Central shooting 25% in 32 minutes. Montrose was much better at 43%, a season-high, helped strongly by a 5-for-6 (all threes) effort from Taylor Yanosky, who finished with a game and team-high 16 points. Casebolt added 13 on 4-for-13 shooting, and Josie Coulter had 11 with five rebounds. Through Monday, it was the Indians’ highest scoring effort this season.
Passing from Montrose was some of its best yet, as the team had a season-high 19 assists in the win. The Indians had little trouble breaking Central’s late full-court press, finding openings in transition and two-on-one opportunities.
Though the Indians turnover trouble continued (22 on Saturday), the shooting was much improved, one of the aspects that signaled the team could be on the verge of a quick turnaround.
Montrose will look to make it two in a row tonight at Fruita (5-1).