Harrison boys basketball squad eyes Colorado title, focuses on the present

By Marcus Hill

The Southeast Express

State title or bust.

Harsh expectations, but Harrison High School boys basketball coach Eric Kaiser knows that’s his team’s reality.

If Class 4A’s No. 4-ranked Panthers play how they did Saturday at Thorpe Gymnasium – a 62-42 smackdown against Cañon City – they’ll be in great shape.

“I feel like we played great as a team, we know this is our chance and this is our year,” said junior Tayzhean Archuleta. “Every team is going to play us like it’s their state championship. We have to make sure we come out here prepared to win every game and play as a team.”

The Panthers (8-1 overall, 3-0 Colorado Springs Metro League) hope to hold that gold ball this season, so Kaiser and assistant coaches Dorian Watson and Antonio Shedrick mold them between the ears to keep them focused on the present in hopes of unwrapping a gift later. Kaiser and co. make sure they prep the Panthers for each team’s best shot.

“Myself and my assistants hold them accountable and challenge them,” Kaiser said. “We see what they want and see how to get some things out of them. … Everyday it’s a process; there’s always something, and we see how the team picks each other up and goes from there.”

Harrison faced that adversity in their final home tilt of the decade against Pueblo West.

Knotted at 62-all with less than six seconds left in regulation, Pueblo West’s Jimmy Wardle got the ball from teammate Taylor Harris at the right wing and pulled up from deep.

Swish.

Then ranked No. 2, Harrison watched as the Cyclones celebrated the buzzer-beater on the Panthers’ home court and dealt HHS a 65-62 loss. It was the Panthers’ first defeat of the season and first home loss since Jan. 30, 2018. It was also just their second defeat at home in two years.

Archuleta said that moment served as motivation.

“We’re going to take that into every game,” Archuleta said. “We know the mistakes we made and will make sure that we don’t repeat those.”

Kaiser shouldered the blame for that loss.

“I put them in some situations that they weren’t comfortable with,” he said. “That was a great game and experience. Everyone has these expectations with us and we’re grateful for that, but we have our own. We want them to be better as a people and students, and that translates to them as players.

“One of the good things about these guys is they never talk about who we’re playing or we’re ranked this or that,” the coach continued. “We just get on to the next game and respect every opponent we play. We have a conference that’s pretty well coached with a lot of good players. Nothing is given just because an article says so.”

Since that loss, the Panthers are on a three-game win streak, and junior Donta Dawson continues to be a force.

Dawson averages 21.3 points per game, and during the Panthers’ win streak, he’s scored: 27 points on 67percent shooting against Mesa Ridge; 23 against Elizabeth on 60 percent; and 23 on 59 percent against the Tigers.

He scored six in a row in the fourth quarter against the Tigers and nearly matched Cañon City’s total for the period (9-6). Dawson also had a double-double for the game with 13 rebounds and added two assists and two steals.

“It was more of a mentality thing,” Dawson said. “I started getting beat backdoor and I kept leaving my teammates hanging. I had to do something to help out to show I still had their backs. I did that with scoring and getting rebounds.”

That ferocity exhibited by the Panthers in the fourth – full-court pressure late in the game, chants of ‘D up’ from the bench with 2:30 left in the fourth, a 10-0 run against the Tigers to put the game out of reach in the final period – is what they know they’ll need to accomplish their dreams.

“We remember how it felt to be in the Great 8 last year,” Dawson said. “We remember the hurt we felt after that one-point loss. We really take pride in playing defense to get each other going on the court so we can have that fire every game.”

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