ST. GEORGE — Six-foot-eight-inch Boston Gubler casts a big shadow, but Hurricane's Colton Marshall may have finally stepped out of the big guy’s silhouette.
Marshall scored 12 points and snagged 13 rebounds to lead the Tigers to a 39-38 come-from-behind victory over Desert Hills Wednesday night at Thunder Gymnasium. DH point guard Brandon Simister had his 25-foot potential game-winning shot blocked, which preserved the win for Hurricane.
Hurricane trailed most of the evening against the No. 2-ranked Thunder, but never by more than five points. The Tigers finally made their run with six minutes to go in the game, scoring seven straight to turn a 31-28 deficit into a 35-31 lead. Marshall scored back-to-back baskets off of offensive rebounds to cap the run.
"I call him my little MVP because he just does everything," Hurricane coach Gordon Dotson said. "He's just a fantastic ball player. He has this steady, sure influence on each game."
The Tigers pushed the lead to 39-33 with 2:20 left in the game, then had to hold on by their collective fingernails as Desert Hills mounted a comeback.
Brandon Simister hit a pair of free throws with 2:14 to play to bring the Thunder within 39-35. After a Hurricane turnover, Tyler Ott floated a pretty layup over Gubler to cut the lead to 39-37 with 1:29 to play.
Desert Hills elected not to foul the Tigers even though Hurricane entered the game shooting just 52.6 percent from the line as a team. The Thunder were rewarded for their patience, though, and collected another turnover off a back court violation. It was the 20th turnover of the game for Hurricane. A frenetic loose ball at the basket ended when Tanner Atkin tossed up a prayer while being mugged in the lane. The shot wouldn't go, but Atkin was sent to the free throw line with 12.9 seconds to play.
The senior forward made the first free throw to make it 39-38. A Hurricane timeout split the freebies, and the pause seemed to bother Atkin,who missed the second charity shot. Desert Hills fouled immediately, sending McCrae Vaifanua to the line with 7.5 seconds to play.
He missed the front end of the one-and-one, setting up a potential game-winner for Simister. Weaving through the defense, Simister tried a running trey with about a second left, but it was partially blocked, sparking a mad celebration by the several hundred Hurricane fans who made the 25-mile trek to Bloomington.
"It was a great atmosphere," Dotson said. "It might be even louder here than last year. And our fans traveled well, too, but I think the last two minutes took about seven years off of my life."
It was a classic match-up of offense vs. defense. The Tigers lead Region 9 in points allowed, giving up just 41 points a game. Meanwhile, Desert Hills went into the game averaging 62 points a game offensively.
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"I wondered if this team had the mental toughness to compete in a game like this, especially after the way we lost last Friday (46-40 at home against Dixie)," Dotson said. "They showed me tonight that they do. I'm really pleased."
Taylor Parker had 11 points and Gubler knocked down 10 for Hurricane, which improved to 10-2 overall and 2-1 in region play.
The Thunder suffered their first region loss against three wins. Desert Hills, now 9-3 overall, got 12 points from Ott and Jon Bodnar added 11.
Andy Griffin is a southern Utah broadcaster and sports writer and has been involved in the high school scene in Utah's Dixie for 18 years.