Falcon's inability to score costs team in state boys' hoops quarterfinal loss

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Photo - Mitchel Ballage, (22), takes the ball in for 2 points against the Trojans during the Falcons 54-62 neutral playoff loss to Longmont Saturday March 3, 2018. Photo by Jeff Kearney.
Mitchel Ballage, (22), takes the ball in for 2 points against the Trojans during the Falcons 54-62 neutral playoff loss to Longmont Saturday March 3, 2018. Photo by Jeff Kearney.

There's perhaps no simpler way to describe the game of basketball than a line from Pepsi's Kyrie Irving's Uncle Drew commercials.

"This game has always been and will always be about buckets," Bill Russell says.

Falcon's boys' team did enough defensively in the quarterfinals of the 4A state tournament at home Saturday, but despite opportunities they created, they failed to score on the offensive end. The Longmont Trojans, on the other hand, "got buckets" so they are moving on.

Prep Basketball: Falcon High School (54) vs. Longmont Trojans (62)
Falcon, Noah Martinez (32), drives the lane for 2 points against Longmont in the Falcons 54-62 loss to the Trojans Saturday March 3, 2018. Photo by Jeff Kearney. . 

Missed layups, an unwillingness to shoot the ball and forcing it down low doomed the Falcons as they fell 62-54 at the hands of the Trojans. Falcon's strategy of getting the ball to their two big seniors Brendan LaRose and Mitchel Ballage, paid off in the early going, but after Longmont made adjustments, the Falcons struggled offensively.

Senior guard and point guard Reece Warren and Noah Martinez, two of the team's top scorers, combined for 14 points. Ballage got in foul trouble early and was a nonfactor in the second and third quarters. LaRose led the Falcons with 17 points, but in the end, it all amounted to a disappointing exit for a team coach Mark Watley says is the best in school history.

"I thought the guards were passive in shooting the ball, we still wanted to shoot the ball. We didn't shoot the ball, we forced it inside," Watley said. "You have to shoot the ball to keep the other team honest.

"We played really well, I just thought when it came time to make some of those fundamental plays, some of those box outs, some of those made layups where you focus putting it on the backboard, we just didn't do it. So the disappointment is great because it's a great group of guys, broke all the records at Falcon for basketball, and didn't really finish where they wanted to."

After leading in the first quarter, the Falcons lost the lead in the second thanks to missed layups following turnovers and a 15-point quarter from Longmont.

The Falcons were disjointed. When they found some offensive rhythm in the third, thanks to a fast start from LaRose who recorded six points in the quarter, they couldn't get a stop on defense. Open or contested, Longmont's Luke Johnson made shots from anywhere in the key and beyond the arc. The Trojans senior finished with a whopping game-high 27 points. Longmont coach Jeff Kloster said he allows Johnson to take his shots.

"There's certain kids on our team we just told them, 'you've got a green light, you gotta make sure that you elevate and just lift it home,'" Kloster said. "(Johnson's) done it for us all year long. We had other kids that stepped up. I just gotta tip my hat to all my kids because they wanted another day of basketball."

Johnson made eight free throws in the fourth quarter to keep the game agonizingly out of reach for Falcon.

Despite the loss, Watley is proud of his players, his seniors being the first group of freshmen he coached at the school.

Prep Basketball: Falcon High School (54) vs. Longmont Trojans (62)
Falcon Forward, Brendan LaRose (34), goes around the back of Trojan, Jaydon Elkins (20), to try and regain possession of the ball during the Falcons 54-62 neutral playoff loss to Longmont Saturday March 3, 2018. Photo by Jeff Kearney. 

"I've got to see them grow up and I've got to see them mature and I've got to see them become team players, which is not seen in high school basketball very often," he said. "Because of their willingness to change and adhere to some basic rules, that's what made us who we are."

Watley notes the community has appreciated the change the seniors have brought as well.

"The crowd's just gotten bigger and bigger and bigger and we knew today would be (a big crowd) and it was. So we feel a little disappointed that we didn't deliver to them what they came to get but the community support has been outstanding, probably the best it's ever been and I think it will continue to grow because of this group of guys."