Looking to wrap up their weekend with a home victory over Telluride, the Dove Creek High School boys basketball team kept fans on the edge of their seats before coming through with four late free throws to secure a 42-39 win.
Leading the way for the Bulldogs for the second consecutive game was sophomore Cade Hankins, who scored a team-high 19 points and hit two shots from the charity stripe with 16.9 seconds left to give his team a 40-39 lead.
The Dove Creek shooting guard’s clutch free throws came after Telluride senior Chris Betz was whistled for a technical foul after he loudly shouted a curse word following his failure to secure a loose ball.
Twelve seconds later, with the Bulldogs still leading by a point, Dove Creek senior Hayden Gray stepped to the free throw line and calmly knocked down two free throws to put his team ahead 42-39 and secure the victory.
“I finally made a free throw,” Gray said. “I’ve been struggling for some reason, but whenever it counted, I made them. I knew that the game shouldn’t have been as close as it was, so I had no doubt. We just had to overcome the adversity.”
Prior to Hankins’ and Gray’s late-game free throws, the Bulldogs waded through a back-and-forth contest that featured nine lead changes and felt as if it could go either way.
Early on in a first quarter that ended with Dove Creek leading 11-4, the Bulldogs half-court offense operated efficiently, but a scoring drought midway through the second quarter allowed Telluride cut its deficit and eventually build a 20-17 lead heading into halftime.
“At halftime (head coach Ty Gray) told us that we weren’t running our offense or even attempting to run it,” Hayden Gray said. “He said that we just needed to slow down and not take the first shot and pass the ball.”
As the third quarter got underway, Dove Creek began to build momentum thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers by Hankins and junior Ryan Jarmon, whose smooth shot from from the right baseline ignited the crowd and tied the game, 26-26.
Several offensive rebounds and a handful of key hustle plays by sophomore Kendall Gardner, who scored eight points in the contest, also contributed to the Bulldogs third-quarter surge that allowed them to take a 31-29 lead into the final eight minutes of play.
“It was very important for us to get those put back points,” Gardner said. “Those points allowed us to stay ahead.”
Over the course of a fourth quarter that featured several momentum shifts and two lead changes, the Bulldogs and the Miners exchanged baskets and barbs as the intensity in the gym escalated.
After Telluride senior Jack Courter drained a 3-pointer from the corner with 2:07 left to give put Telluride ahead 39-37 with 2:07 left, Dove Creek senior Blaine Johnson stepped to the line and hit a free throw to make the score 39-38 and set the stage for the Bulldogs clutch free throws.
“I knew that the game shouldn’t have been as close as it was, so I had no doubt,” Hayden Gray said. “This is my fourth year playing. I know how to handle the pressure and I do my best to help the younger guys. We just had to overcome the adversity.”
Now 2-1 on the season, Dove Creek will hit the road for a game against Monticello on Feb. 8 before traveling to face Nucla on Feb. 12.
“We’re pretty confident,” said Gardner, when asked about his team’s mentality three games into its season. “We’re ready to go.”