It wasn't the way Donta Dawson imagined ending his basketball season.

The Harrison sophomore stepped to the foul line in front of a crowd that wanted him to fail. The Panthers were down by a point in overtime to unbeaten Longmont in the Class 4A quarterfinals last Saturday.

Dawson made just one of two free throws.

And with less than a second left, the Panthers couldn't get a shot off on their ensuing inbounds pass.

Game over: Longmont 64, Harrison 63.

Despite the final score, the moment was significant. If it didn't already happen, the program's future was basically handed to Dawson. It was the sophomore who attempted the big shots.

"You don't want anyone else at the free throw besides Donta," Harrison coach Eric Kaiser said.

Dawson's 25-point performance landed him this week's Gazette Preps Peak Performer honor. He also grabbed five rebounds, blocked two shots and made a couple 3-pointers but what he really wanted was his team's final results to be different.

"It hurts," he said Monday. "Most of us are still hurting."

Harrison entered the state playoffs as the No. 10 seed, earning a bye. But the Panthers (21-5) were challenged every single step of the way, evident by a 55-52 win over No. 23 Alameda and a 61-57 triumph over No. 26 Golden in the next two rounds.

Dawson scored 19 and 20 points, respectively.

Then came No. 2 Longmont, the defending state champion. It took overtime to decide a winner. It was clutch shot after clutch shot. Then, Longmont's Beck Page hit a 3 with 15 seconds left to put the Trojans up one.

The Panthers later fouled Oakley Dehning during the chaotic final moments, which prompted the Longmont student section to run onto its home court for a premature celebration. Officials called a technical foul on the crowd, setting the stage for a free-throw contest between the two teams.

Dehning made one of two, putting Longmont ahead by two.

Dawson's turn: He sank the first free throw, but not the second.

The Panthers had one last chance with eight-tenths of a second left on the clock. It wasn't enough time.

Dawson takes a deep breath when he thinks about how his sophomore season ended. He's trying to move on.

He's already thinking about how he can get better. He plans to hit the weight room and improve his dribbling. He doesn't want to be known as a good player just because he's big and tall, at 6-foot-4 and 189 pounds.

His coach, Kaiser, remembers seeing Dawson play when he was officiating youth games in the area. So when he became the Panthers coach last year, he felt "blessed and grateful" to have a young, up-and-coming talent like Dawson to lead the program.

"I've been working hard to show that I can play," Dawson said.

Imagine this: He still has two more years left at Harrison.


Just the Facts

Donta Dawson, Harrison

Sport: Boys' basketball

Year: Sophomore

Position: Small forward/guard

Highlights: The sophomore led the Panthers with 25 points on 11-of-20 shooting from the field in a 64-63 overtime loss to Longmont in the Class 4A quarterfinals over the weekend. In Harrison's first two playoff games, Dawson scored 19 and 20 points, respectively. He finished with 17-point and 6.5-rebound averages.

Favorite athlete: Kevin Durant

Favorite team: Oklahoma City Thunder

Favorite movie: Hancock

Favorite pumpup songs: Roddy Ricch's "Every Season"


Other Top Performers

Boys' basketball

Jason Holt, Evangelical Christian Academy

The junior scored 16 points to lead the Eagles to a 48-25 win over Ouray last weekend to push the program to its first quarterfinals appearance in the Class 1A regional playoffs since 2007. That year, ECA won a state title.

Nique Clifford, The Vanguard School

The junior was a dominant presence in the Coursers' wins last week in the Class 3A state tournament. He had 19 and 18 points against Strasburg and Gunnison, respectively. In the second game, he surpassed the 1,000-point mark to help lift Vanguard to the quarterfinals.

Girls' basketball

Megan Engesser, Colorado Springs Christian School

The senior hit four 3-pointers on her way to a 32-point performance in the Lions' 63-29 over Manitou Springs last Saturday to return to the Class 3A quarterfinals. A day earlier, she had a quadruple (19 points, 14 rebounds, 14 steals and 10 assists) in a 64-21 win over Eagle Ridge Academy.

Seneca Hackley, St. Mary's

The junior had 21 and 23 points, respectively, in blowout wins over Riverdale Ridge and Salida, in the Class 3A state tournament. Hackely socred 20 or more points one other time this season — a win over Lutheran on Dec. 11.

Chhun Sun is a sports reporter with an emphasis in preps. He joined The Gazette in April 2015 and covered public safety for three years before joining @gazettepreps staff. The Thailand-born Cambodian-American has been in journalism for nearly two decades.

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