Denver - When the ball left Noah Hopkins' hands with less than three minutes to play, the Colorado Springs Christian School guard started bouncing up and down, that knowing feeling readily apparent.
The 3-pointer found nothing but net and No. 3 CSCS, the two-time defending 3A state champions who had given up 24 points in the first quarter and trailed by as many as 13 in the first half and 12 in the second half, never trailed again.
The Lions defeated upset-minded No. 6 Denver Science & Tech Stapleton 57-53 at the University of Denver on Thursday afternoon to advance to the 3A state semifinals.
CSCS (23-2) will play again Friday night at 8:30 against No. 10 Sterling, which upset No. 2 Manitou Springs later Thursday.
Hopkins' 3 with 2:51 left gave the Lions just their second lead of the game and came on the heels of a 3-pointer from the Knights' Jordan Heien that briefly recaptured the lead for DSST (21-4).
"I'm a shooter, and I've got to shoot every time I can," Hopkins said. "Right when it left my hand it felt good."
The Lions worked tirelessly against the Knights' full-court press after CSCS dug itself a 24-11 hole after the first quarter and fell behind 30-17 with 3:29 left in the half.
Again it was Hopkins who gave the Lions belief they could rally when he hit a 3 at the first-half buzzer to cut the Knights' lead to 32-27.
"It was huge," said Lions senior Justin Engesser, who scored a game-high 27. "A three-point swing, down eight or down five, and we only won the game by four."
While the Knights opened the third on a 9-2 run to build a 41-29 lead, Hopkins had another answer. Another 3 from the junior stopped the Knights' run, as the Lions outscored DSST 28-12 the rest of the way.
"Whenever anybody hits a big shot, you can see it on the court, we all get pumped up and start screaming for each other," said Hopkins, who finished with 12 points. "That's just team basketball."
The only time CSCS had surrendered that many points in a quarter this season was when they gave up 25 to the Vanguard School in the fourth quarter of a game that was already out of reach.
While the players admitted to being worried as they looked up and saw the scoreboard after the first quarter, the coaching staff knew what adjustments needed to be made.
"It was more just upset with how we were playing, we know we can do better," said Lions assistant coach Pat Blackburn, while head coach Mark Engesser had already returned courtside to coach the girls' game. "We pride ourselves on defense, and to give up 24 points in a half is normally more than we expect."
Blake Pullen led the Knights with 13 points.
Zach Wismer scored 11 for CSCS - 10 in the paint and many as a result of the Lions breaking the press. Mateo Mendoza came off the bench to hit a 3 in the second quarter, help run the point and play tight defense.
"It's always a team effort with us," Justin Engesser said. "We always try to get a lot of assists in the game. . We play unselfish basketball, that's my dad's (Mark) way of playing, and we all buy into it."