OGDEN — As one 5A coach put it, the state tournament is all about which team can block out the intensity and excitement of it all and just play its game.
American Fork did that during the 5A quarterfinals Wednesday, while Bingham certainly did not.
In a much-anticipated showdown between No. 2 and No. 3, American Fork managed to stay consistent throughout and knocked down some big shots and free throws to prevail 56-52 at the Dee Events Center.
"We kind of expected to be here, but all the teams in the tournament so far have been good, so it's a good accomplishment for us," said Caveman Quincy Bair.
The Cavemen weren't scintillating from the field, but they buried six 3-pointers and made 14-of-20 free throws. Bingham, meanwhile, suffered through one of its worst shooting performances of the season as it made just 22-of-37 free throws, and was 0-of-15 on 3-pointers.
"That's just how a state tournament game goes," said American Fork coach Doug Meacham, whose team faces Murray in Friday's semifinals at 4 p.m.
American Fork led by as many as 13 midway through the fourth quarter, but had to sweat out the victory as Bingham closed to within three points on three difference occasions in the final 34 seconds. The Cavemen responded with just enough free throws (4 of 6) to deny Bingham a possession to potentially tie the game.
Bair hit 4-of-7 free throws in the final minute, and finished with a game-high 17 points.
"The thing I told the guys is, 'Want to the ball. Want the ball even if you've missed a shot or a free throw. You've got to want the ball,' and I thought Quincy there at the end wanted the ball and hit some big free throws for us," said Meacham.
American Fork looked like it would run away with the victory after opening the fourth quarter on a 13-2 run to extend its lead to 47-34. Austin Waddoups hit one of his three 3-pointers to kick-start the run, while Alex Ross buried another to push the lead to 13.
Bingham didn't go quietly though. Its full-court press forced American Fork into numerous turnovers as it slowly clawed back into the game. The Miners attacked the basket for some easy layups, and got to the free throw line as well, knocking down 10 of 14 attempts in the final four minutes.
It was all the misses earlier in the game that really hurt the Miners, who shot 59 percent from the line, well below its 71 percent season average.9 comments on this story
In the victory, Meacham said he was particularly pleased with Waddoups' defense on Bingham point guard Jordan Phouthavong, not to mention Nate Ensign's toughness as the big man finished with six rebounds, four points and three blocks. Phouthavong still finished with 13 points to lead Bingham, but he shot 30 percent and didn't have an assist.
More than anything though, Meacham liked his team's reaction after the win.
"What I liked was there was kind of a mini celebration, because they expected to be here. There's a confidence about them. I'm proud of them and I love they way they battled and made it to this point," he said.
Waddoups and Marcel Davis combined for 21 points to go along with Bair's 17 in the victory.