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Sweet 16 bound: Fort Collins boys basketball team wins first playoff game since 2017

Sharp-shooting Denver South came right off the tip and drilled three 3-pointers in the first couple minutes.

Welcome to playoff basketball, Fort Collins High School.

It was an immediate wakeup call to the Lambkins that the smallest details (like hard closeouts on shooters) are key.

Fort Collins, the No. 6 seed in the Class 6A playoffs, quickly settled in.

Jayce King responded with 3-pointers of his own, Jamar Mitchell and Joe Cottingham dominated the paint early and Fort Collins took down No. 27 Denver South 71-60 in Thursday’s first-round game of the 32-team bracket.

Here are three thoughts on the Lambkins' win:

The Fort Collins response

Denver South (13-11) may have gone up quickly, but Fort Collins (21-3) responded just as fast.

King’s shooting quickly erased a deficit as he hit three first-quarter 3-pointers on the way to a team-high 24 points.

As King was firing from deep, Mitchell was unguardable inside as Denver South seemed intent on trying to deny Luke Wagstaff. Mitchell scored 10 first-quarter points and the Lambkins turned that early deficit into an 11-point lead after the first quarter.

Fort Collins High School boys basketball player Jamar Mitchell shoots during a Class 6A playoff game against Denver South on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Fort Collins High School boys basketball player Jamar Mitchell shoots during a Class 6A playoff game against Denver South on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

“We were a little slow on those closeouts,” second-year Fort Collins coach Bruce Dick said. “We got some baskets and then I think we got a little better defensively.”

It was comfortable after that. Fort Collins led in the 10-to-18 point range most the night after that and Denver South never threatened to make a run even as the game turned sloppy in the final minutes.

In addition to King’s 24 points, Mitchell finished with 15, Wagstaff with 14 and Andrew Koerner and Joe Cottingham had eight each. Cottingham had two highlight-reel dunks.

Fort Collins High School boys basketball player Joe Cottingham dribbles during a Class 6A playoff game against Denver South on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.
Fort Collins High School boys basketball player Joe Cottingham dribbles during a Class 6A playoff game against Denver South on Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023.

Another key marker

It seems every game there’s a new “been so long since” marker for this Lambkins team, and Thursday was no different.

Fort Collins had missed the playoffs three of the last five seasons and lost in the first round (of a 48-team bracket) in the two postseasons they did make, including last year.

The Lambkins boys basketball team didn't have a playoff win since 2017 until Thursday. Fort Collins also hasn’t made the Sweet 16 since 2017 and the Lambkins are there now.

“That’s always the key. Win and play again,” Dick said.

Next up? Well, the last Great 8 for Fort Collins was also 2017, and this group will hope to check that box Saturday.

More:Takeaways as No. 3 Fossil Ridge survives early blitz to hold off Chaparral in 6A playoff opener

League rematch Saturday

The Lambkins earned a Sweet 16 home game with their seed and it will come at 3 p.m. Saturday against a league foe.

No. 11 Legacy beat No. 22 Douglas County 65-36 in the first round to earn another trip to Fort Collins.

Legacy finished fourth in the Front Range League (won by Fort Collins) and the Lambkins beat the Lightning 73-49 just 10 days ago.

That could be a sign of a mismatch or a tricky act to repeat, but based on the first-round score it would be wise to not overlook Legacy.

“We played one of our best games of the year against Legacy and we’re going to have to repeat that because they’re really good,” Dick said.

No upset this year:Windsor boys basketball flies past Falcon in 5A playoff opener

Follow sports reporter Kevin Lytle on Twitter and Instagram @Kevin_Lytle.

This article originally appeared on Fort Collins Coloradoan: Sweet 16 bound: Fort Collins boys basketball wins first playoff game since 2017