RIVERTON — The message for Riverton's boys basketball team before taking the court against No. 1 West Jordan was surprisingly simple — just play hard.
Coach Steve Galley didn't bore his players with too many Xs and Os and instead challenged them to prove they were capable of playing hard after two miserable performances the week before.
His players more than responded to the challenge, as they exceeded everyone's expectations by stunning West Jordan 62-58 in the second game of the Riverton Winter Invitational on Tuesday night.
"We can play with anybody, we just have to play hard. We can't get complacent," said Riverton's D McCleary.
It was an outcome nobody saw coming after West Jordan's triumph at the Great Western Shootout in Orem last week and then Riverton's stinkers against Fremont and Murray.
Somehow, though, the 'Wolves played a near-perfect game in racing to a huge halftime lead and then surviving West Jordan's furious fourth-quarter comeback.
"We didn't play so well last week. There wasn't a whole lot of talk about strategy, it was more can you guys play as hard as you can for as long as you can. That was our No. 1 goal. We're going to go into a brutal league, and we need a measuring stick," said Galley.
Riverton was sensational in the first half, shooting 50 percent from the field and knocking down six 3-pointers to build a 37-21 halftime lead.
Collectively the 'Wolves started to get into major foul trouble in the third quarter, and even though they led 52-41 after three, momentum was clearly shifting as West Jordan was already in the bonus.
West Jordan opened the fourth quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 53-52 lead, its first of the game, with 3:58 remaining. The 'Wolves buckled under the pressure of West Jordan's half-court pressure defense early in the quarter, and Jordan Pryor made them pay as he scored 10 straight points, including the 3-pointer that gave the Jags their first lead of the game.
To Riverton's credit, though, it didn't buckle after seeing its 16-point lead evaporate. It regrouped and regained a 56-55 lead on a pair of free throws by Stephan Holm, and then extended the lead to 60-55 with 1:08 remaining after back-to-back lay-ups by Tevita Loamanu and Bryce Stone.
West Jordan's Jaden Jackson responded with one of his team's nine 3-pointers with 57 seconds left, but McCleary extended the lead to 62-58 on a pair of free throws with 26 seconds remaining to effectively clinch the victory.
"That's a confidence builder that we didn't wilt. But I don't think we wilted anyway, I think those guys are that good that they can be down 16 points and do that. I really do. I'm proud of our guys for withstanding it," said Galley.6 comments on this story
Riverton shot 51 percent in the stunning victory as Stone led the way with 22 points and McCleary chipped in with 18.
West Jordan's big three of Jackson, Jordan Loveridge and Pryor combined to score 46 points, but Loveridge only accounted for 13 of those points, and only two in the second half.
Galley said Riverton didn't do anything special to slow down Loveridge, but simply mixed in some zone defense with its traditional man-to-man defense to create some confusion.
Excluding a four-minute stretch in the fourth quarter, Riverton could do no wrong in knocking West Jordan from the ranks of the unbeaten.