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BASKETBALL: No. 6 Agua Fria outlasts Havasu boys, 68-54

January 12, 2018 GMT

The Lake Havasu boys basketball team dropped its first Desert West conference home game against Avondale Agua Fria — ranked sixth in Section 5A — 68-54, putting a tough loss to Buckeye Verrado Tuesday night behind them with a strong performance against one of the top teams in the state.

While the Knights (0-2 Desert West, 13-6 overall) lost to the Owls (2-1 Desert West, 10-5 overall) on Thursday, Lake Havasu accomplished what it set out to do, proving it can hang with the bigger Phoenix teams.

“I think (Agua Fria) thought they were just going to run over us,” Lake Havasu coach Ted Darnell said. “We won the first quarter and the first half went really well. I know our team can play but sometimes the challenge is to get the team to believe they can play. I think after tonight, they definitely know they can play with the Phoenix schools.”

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Lake Havasu was down 37-26 going into halftime after a Ryan Hopp buzzer-beating 3-pointer.

The Knights led 18-17 after the first quarter but the Owls adjusted to Lake Havasu’s style, using their size advantage on offense and stepping up their defense.

The Owls forced turnovers in the second half by pressing the Knights hard at the half court line.

As good as Lake Havasu’s passing was, once a Knight got the ball in his hand there was an Owls defender in his face. The Knights had no choice but to pass again or make a tough shot selection that rarely found the basket.

However, when Lake Havasu was able to get open looks the ball would often find the bottom of the net. Unfortunately, those looks only came more often in the waning minutes of the game.

Hopp and Abraham Rodriguez started a 10-2 scoring run by hitting back-to-back 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to put the Knights within 11 with four minutes remaining.

By that time however, the Owls played keep away to chew time off the clock and Lake Havasu would only manage just two more points, from Noah Boyd who scored in the last 30 seconds.

Agua Fria’s defense won the game Thursday but that has not been the case as of late for the Owls.

“We really wanted to focus on defense. That is where we have been struggling the last couple of ball games,” Agua Fria coach Ramon Marks said about his team’s effort. “It was good to see that we were able to play team defense without reaching and trying to make great plays but just playing solid defense. Both teams played hard and the first half was real competitive but the difference maker for us was our defense stepped up in the second half and changed the tide for us.”

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Once the Owls locked down on defense, Agua Fria started feeding the ball to DJ McNeal who exploded in the second half with 14 points and led his team offensively with a game-high 29 points.

Hopp led Lake Havasu offensively with 16 points, including four 3-pointers. Steven Kornowski added nine with one 3-pointer.

The Knights are still seeking their first conference win, but if they can keep the intensity they played with Thursday night, it very well may be right around the corner.

“This is how I wanted us to come out against Verrado,” Darnell said. “This kind of intensity. Our offense looked better than it did the other night. It was a bad loss for us at Verrado. So I told the team ‘we need to win now.’

“I know we can beat Verrado,” Darnell continued. “I know we can possibly beat Goldwater and Desert Edge. So I knew three out of our five match ups we were looking pretty good. So coming into this game I knew (Agua Fria) was going to be good. But honestly if we would have hit a few more shots and did not turn the ball over it could have been closer and had an opportunity for a last chance shot. But good teams like (Agua Fria) aren’t going to blow a 14-point lead with three minutes left.”

At 1:30 p.m. on Saturday Lake Havasu will be in Phoenix to face Goldwater.