SALT LAKE CITY — Every year the 3A boys state tournament features a game that has fans in the stands saying, "wow."
It happened again on Friday night at the Huntsman Center, and what a dandy it was — particularly for Morgan.
In a game that featured seven players in double figures, two NBA-caliber dunks and a frantic pace from the opening tip, Morgan moved within one win of its first state championship since 1974 with a thrilling 86-81 victory over Desert Hills.
"That was incredible. The locker room was booming. That's the most excited I've ever been in my whole life," said Morgan star Casey Evans, who battled foul trouble all game yet still finished with 19 points and 12 rebounds. "We were going nuts, hugging the coaches. That's the most excited I've ever seen coach (Jim) Wiscombe for sure."
Morgan led most of the game, and by as many as 14 points in the fourth quarter, and it had a response every time Desert Hills hit one of its six fourth-quarter 3-pointers.
The Trojans will try and capture that elusive state championship tonight at 7:30 p.m. when they face long-time nemesis Wasatch.
Even though Desert Hills scored 81 points, Wiscombe said defense and rebounding was the difference Thursday night.
"The team played hard. Played very good defense. The zone caused them problems, they didn't shoot particularly well, but they didn't get a lot of easy shots inside," said Wiscombe.
It wasn't until the desperate moments of the fourth quarter that Desert Hills started knocking down some outside shots. Tanner Atkin buried three treys, finishing with a game-high 34 points, but it wasn't enough to offset Morgan's balance.
Along with Evans' 19, Dallin Schenk also added 19, while Jared Brooks chipped in with 17 and Boston Saunders and Tad Sargent each contributed 10.
"Our coaches talked a lot about having poise and being relaxed. Before this game we knew if we played hard defense and rebounded the ball we'd come out on top," said Evans.
Wiscombe admits he thought his team might be in trouble when Evans picked up his second foul just 1:12 into the game, and then even more so when Tyler Ott threw down a monster jam in the first quarter to tie the score at 15-15.
"That slam down in front of me was pretty impressive. I didn't know we were in a high school gym on that play," said Wiscombe.
Early in the second quarter Morgan threatened to blow the game wide open after an eight-point possession. Leading 23-19, Jake Miles converted a driving lay-up and was fouled by Desert Hills' Dmanic McKeighan.
McKeighan disagreed with the call and was whistled for a technical foul after saying something to the ref as he walked to the bench. Miles converted his and-one free throw, and both technicals. Morgan maintained possession, and Dallin Schenk extended the lead to 31-19 with a 3-pointer.
Despite trailing by 12 after the technical debacle, and then 10 late in the half, the Thunder closed the second quarter on a 7-0 run to whittle the deficit to 37-34 by halftime.5 comments on this story
Desert Hills maintained the momentum into the third quarter and actually took a 42-41 leading with 5:41 remaining on a driving layup by Brandon Simister, who finished with 20 points.
Evans immediately responded with a baseline 3-pointer, his only one of the tournament, to put the Trojans back in front 44-42.
"I've been struggling on these hoops, yesterday I didn't get many shots. I just kind of felt the rhythm coming and let it fly and it went in," he said.
The Trojans never trailed the rest of the way, and they did just enough from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to hold off the Thunder.
Wasatch xx, Judge xx
6 lines here to come