DENVER — D’Evelyn senior Troy Benko found the perfect moment to throw down his first dunk of the season.
The Jaguars were closing in on defeating Littleton to win the Class 4A Jeffco League boys basketball title for the first time since the 2013-14 season. Benko put an exclamation point on the 56-46 home victory with a steal at mid-court with 10 seconds to play and slamming home a breakaway dunk.
“It was the perfect way to end the regular season,” D’Evelyn junior Elijah Gusmus said of Benko’s dunk that had the Jaguars’ student section storm the court after the final buzzer.
D’Evelyn (17-5, 13-2 in 4A Jeffco) and Green Mountain (18-3, 13-2) finished with identical conference records, but the Jaguars won the head-to-head tiebreak of margin of victory in the games the two teams split.
The Rams edged the Jaguars on D’Evelyn’s home court 53-51 on Jan. 19. The Jaguars got revenge on Green Mountain’s home court with a 57-50 overtime win Feb. 11.
“Absolutely,” D’Evelyn coach Will Gosch said when asked if there was extra pressure with the conference title on the line. “It’s something that hasn’t been done here since 2014. It’s hard to get. We’ve been talking about restoring the order and being competitive in league.”
Littleton (11-10, 8-6) was more than competitive in the second meeting with D’Evelyn. The Lions actually handed the Jaguars their other league defeat.
“We were definitely nervous because we lost to Littleton in their gym earlier,” Gusmus said. “They have been one of our tougher opponents, but we got the job done. That is all that matters.”
D’Evelyn held a slim 35-34 lead going into the fourth quarter Feb. 18. The Jaguars went on a huge 10-0 run in the first two minutes to grab their first double-digit lead of the game. Gosch threw some full-court pressure on the Lions that resulted in a few easy buckets for the Jaguars.
“We adjusted our discipline on defense,” Gosch said of the defensive pressure in the fourth quarter that led to more turnovers than fouls. “Defense wins games.”
Making free throws also helps win games. The Jaguars went 10-for-13 from the charity stripe in the fourth quarter.
“When shots aren’t falling the easiest thing to do is attack the rim,” said Gusmus, who finished with a game-high 19 points. “That was the game plan after the half. To attack their bigs and get try to draw some fouls.”
Senior Bodhi Anderson contributed 13 points and Benko finished with a dozen.
“Everyone played good. It’s a great win,” Benko said. “They beat us by 12 points in their gym. Coming off wins against Green Mountain and Standley Lake we had that energy going.”
The Jaguars want to keep that energy going next week, but also recharge a little before the start of the 48-team 4A state tournament. D’Evelyn were seeded No. 11 for the state tournament, receiving a first-round bye.
“We need to keep going forward,” Gosch said heading into the playoffs. “We’ll try to do different things to keep the guys engaged. My job is not only to coach the Xs and Os, but keep a good mindset, keep their legs fresh and have them ready for that first game.”
D’Evelyn will host the winner of Mountain View/Skyview in a second-round game Saturday, Feb. 26. D’Evelyn has won 7-of-8 games heading into the postseason.
“We definitely need a little time off from games,” Gusmus said. “But we’ll be ready right when that bye is over.”
Dennis Pleuss is the Sports Information Director for Jeffco Public Schools. For more Jeffco coverage, go to CHSAANow.com.