Crossing the line: Free throws kill Niwot boys hoops down the stretch

Jan. 22—NIWOT — When signs of life begin to emerge, old habits can sometimes bog them down. Niwot boys basketball learned that the hard way in a 59-44 home loss to Mountain View on Monday night.

For a Cougars program that's used to being on the losing end of things, the setback came with a highlight reel it wasn't used to. They turned a spit of water into a deluge of 3-pointers, especially in the first half, before letting their demons get the better of them in a sloppy, turnover-filled second half.

The overall performance proved they continue to teeter just on the edge of victory but still need that last nudge to help them cross that line.

"This was one of our first games where we scored the first point in the first half," senior forward Jackson Carano said. "I think, from an energy standpoint, that really boosted us. I think in the second half, we almost got a little too high, I guess you could say, and lost it a little bit. But I think, overall, as a learning aspect, this was really good, because we saw kind of what works and what we need to work on."

Carano led the scoring initiative with 10 points, but junior guards Archer Buckbee and Sebastian Stenz followed him closely with nine and eight points, respectively. Buckbee exclusively drained all of his shots from behind the arc.

The two cats of prey began the game well-matched, with each trading blows, but the Cougars always held the upper hand. A 9-0 run out of the gate gave way to a 32-24 halftime lead for Niwot. That situation quickly devolved through the final 16 minutes.

"Our guys were the aggressors in the first half," head coach Walker Bounds said. "We were confident in ourselves, playing together as a team, moving the ball. Second half, with an inexperienced team and a lot of younger guys — we don't really know how to play with a lead right now. It was just a new experience for us being in a lead like that and then understanding that we need to continue to be aggressive."

As Mountain View began pressing the Cougars a bit harder, they lost their composure and allowed turnover after turnover to stunt their offense. A considerable amount of time spent at the free throw line — for both teams — didn't help the flow of the game much, either.

Throughout the final quarter, the two squads made 12 combined free shots with plenty of misses sprinkled in. All of it harkened back to a season of transition, not just for a team in its first year with a new head coach but for an entire high school scene that changed the free throw rules to five fouls per quarter instead of the usual seven per half.

Slowly but surely, Bounds hopes to create a masterpiece from the blank slate he was given.

"It's kind of like a marble statue," Bounds said. "You chip away at it each play and each game. Eventually, we're trying to turn this block of marble into a statue."