Senior night at Juneau-Douglas High School always makes for a spirited affair and Saturday night was no different as the Crimson Bears boys’ basketball team fed off a raucous crowd in the second half to defeat Thunder Mountain 57-47.
With just more than five minutes remaining in the game and Juneau-Douglas leading by one, the Bears ripped off a 12-0 run in a span of three minutes, capped off by an Alex DeRocher steal and breakaway lay-up to make the score 51-38.
A Cody Grussendorf putback lay-up and two Reese Saviers 3-pointers brought the Falcons back to within six points with 52 seconds left in the game, but TMHS would not get any closer as Colin Gozelski’s late lay-up put the game away.
JDHS coach Steve Potter said his team got caught up in the emotions and the atmosphere of senior night, but fought through it for the victory.
“Obviously, we were caught up in the moment in the first half and we tried to do a lot of things by ourselves instead of together,” he said. “In the second half, they decided they were going to play together and when we do that, we’re better.
“The guys decided they wanted to do it for each other in the second half, and that’s the whole point we’re trying to teach.”
The Falcons, who were without coaches John Blasco, who was at a wedding in Seattle, and Rob Ridgeway, scrapped through a physical first half behind 11 points from Grussendorf on their way to a four-point halftime advantage. Grussendorf led all scorers with 22 points on the night for Thunder Mountain.
Thunder Mountain assistant coach Ruther Echiverri said his team, especially his seniors, played hard enough to win, but it wasn’t in the cards on this night.
“Our guys played really hard out there and as you could see, it was a battle,” he said. “We just have to learn how to finish the game. Our seniors really wanted this game and it showed as they played really well and acted like leaders. They have another chance — it’s not over yet.”
The Crimson Bears came out firing in the third quarter, opening with a 16-3 run sparked by two DeRocher 3-pointers that woke up the home crowd that had been quiet during the first half.
Senior forward Eric Sele said getting the win on senior night was big for the Bears, especially with the Southeast Conference tournament quickly approaching.
“It feels great, especially going into the regional tournament on a win streak,” he said.
Sele, who Potter said has progressed into a major contributer, said Potter has been a great influence on him as a player.
“He’s a great coach, and with all that coaching I feel like I’m doing a lot better,” he said. “The plays were just open — they were there — he expects us to make them and execute.”
Potter said the team has a good chance in the upcoming tournament if they are able to take the positives away from Saturday night’s game and apply them going forward.
“Part of it is we take tough shots when we’re not as patient as we should be — particularly in the first half,” he said. “When we make the defenses play, defenses will break down. When you take quick shots and guarded shots it’s only going to last for so long, even if you’re hitting them.
“Round three is on Tuesday and, hopefully, we can do more of the things we were successful with and less of the things that we weren’t.”
The first and second quarters were marred by poor shooting and sloppy play. The Bears shot 33 percent (9-for-27) from the floor in the first half and made one free throw on four attempts.
Though they held a four-point lead at halftime, the Falcons were not much better as they shot 40 percent (10-for-25) from the field and connected on just two out of six free throws.
Shooting percentage turned out to be the difference after the half as the Crimson Bears shot better than 51 percent in the final two quarters, outscoring the Falcons 38-22 in the second half as TMHS managed just 29 percent shooting.
Free throw shooting was dismal for both teams throughout the game as the school’s combined for 11-32 (34 percent) from the charity stripe.
•Matthew Tynan can be reached at email@example.com.