Brendan Till was happy to see the familiar surroundings of the Sitting Eagle gym and made sure the Arapahoe boys basketball team had a successful homecoming.
Till scored a game-high 26 points, including 10 in the critical fourth quarter, as seventh-ranked Arapahoe defeated No. 5 Mountain Vista 63-55 in a Jan. 4 non-league showdown between two unbeaten teams.
It was the first time the Warriors had been in the Arapahoe gym for 23 days since the Dec. 13 shooting tragedy.
"I had the flow going," said Till. "It was good to be back ... We were playing in front of our own fans and we had a great turnout. Just being home was a big deal. It was a step back to normalcy."
Since the shooting, Arapahoe had been practicing at nearby Lifetime Fitness.
"We had not been on this court since Dec. 12," explained Warriors coach Dan Snyder. "That's really hard. Lifetime could not have been more wonderful and gracious and we really appreciate it but it's not the same as practicing here. We were on a court with two hoops instead of six hoops. So as far as running a practice and stations and stuff like that, you can't do it.
"I'm proud of the kids because of their resiliency. I made the comment that we're fortunate to be practicing anywhere. So we're not going to complain about the circumstances. ... We're really happy to be back in our own building. Regardless of the situation of the last few weeks, the energy level of this group is really good."
Down 49-48 with 4:40 to play in the game, Arapahoe outscored the Golden Eagles 15-6. The Warriors, guilty of seven turnovers in the first quarter, had just 10 the rest of the way and employed a zone defense down the stretch which seemed to baffle Mountain Vista, which came into the game scoring 85.1 points per game.
"We had great energy," said Till. "Turnovers definitely caused some problems in the first half. We crashed the boards offensively and defensively. I don't think we had a single offensive rebound in the first half. So it was aggressive intensity on both sides that won the game."
Till, a 6-foot-2 senior, scored nine of Arapahoe's first 11 points in the fourth quarter that started with the game tied at 44-all. He finished with a free throw to account for the Warriors' eight-point triumph.
"He had a tremendous game," said Snyder. "He can score in a lot of different ways. He's really a good shooter and he sees the court really well. That allows him to go to the right spot at the right time so it's more than just being a good shooter."
Arapahoe sank five of six free throws in the final 1:08 to stall any possible Mountain Vista comeback. The Warriors went 14 for 16 at the foul line for the game.
"I was happy with how well we executed in the fourth quarter and obviously we hit some shots," added Snyder. "The zone seemed to work. They were hurting us so bad getting to the basket against our man-to-man. In the scouting we had done, they are so good in transition, they shoot a ton of layups every game."
In addition to Till, Corbin Atwell scored 16 points while James Dalrymple and Ethan Brunhofer each had eight for the Warriors.
Graham Smith had 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead Mountain Vista, which committed 19 turnovers including six in the final quarter. The Golden Eagles missed five 3-point attempts in the final 35 seconds. Mountain Vista's leading scorer Jake Pemberton had only five points with all of them coming in the first half.
"Arapahoe is a good team," said Mountain Vista coach Bob Wood. "They were aggressive on defense and we didn't execute very well against (their zone).
"Inside of four minutes if you turn the ball over five or six times, you are not going to win the game. A lot of them were forced turnovers. We were trying to force the ball where it's not open instead of executing and getting something. ... We played poorly."
Arapahoe (7-0) opened play in the tough Centennial League Jan. 8 against Cherry Creek and travels to Smoky Hill for a game Jan. 10.
"Of the top 10 teams in the rankings, five are in our league and a couple are just outside of the top 10," pointed out Snyder. "I've seen all the teams in our league and I can say without a doubt this is the strongest the league has been from top to bottom since I've been coaching.
Mountain Vista (8-1), meanwhile, played at Fountain Fort Carson Jan. 7 and hosted Montbello Jan. 8.
"I guess the Arapahoe loss sends a message," confessed Wood. "Sometimes you think that you are better than you are. Hopefully this will help us. You hope you learn from mistakes and get better. We've got a lot of good teams yet to play."