WEST VALLEY CITY — No matter the outcome of the 4A state boys basketball game it was going to be historic — Orem in its 56 years without a boys basketball and Olympus with its 59 years without one. In the end it was the Tigers who made school history — defeating the Titans 58-50.
"I can't even tell you how amazing this feels," said sophomore forward Dalton Nixon. "This was our goal and we worked so hard every day to get here. Now that it's here — it's just unreal."
Orem used a big run in the second quarter to separate themselves and clutch-shooting from the line late to finish Olympus off. They were led by Nixon who scored a game-high 18 points with junior forward Jordan Darger adding 14.
With so much at stake, both teams came out tight with a bevy of turnovers and air-balls leading to a score of just 2-2 after five minutes. Following a steal and made layup from Olympus senior Jake Bengtzen both teams seemed to wake up and ended the first quarter tied 7-7.
Sophomore Cooper Holt sparked Orem, coming off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and block an Olympus layup bid at the buzzer.
"Coop (Cooper) was huge for us," said junior Zach Hunsaker. "He always plays with a ton of energy and we were struggling a bit, but he really gave us a lift."
The Titans got off to an early 12-9 lead in the second quarter before the Tigers responded with a 14-0 run to take charge of the game. Jordan Darger contributed six points during the run with Nixon and Holt each adding a 3-pointer.
Star junior point guard Hunsaker struggled with his shot, but ended the half strong, hitting a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Tigers a 30-24 lead at the half.
"Zach didn't have his best game, but he's the reason we're here," said Orem coach Golden Holt.
Orem immediately took charge coming out, opening the third with a 3-pointer from Nixon leading to a 43-33 lead entering the final quarter.
"Dalton always plays with a lot of confidence and he was great for us tonight," said Holt. "He has a great shot and he was on for us today and gave us a great effort."
The Titans weren't done, however, and immediately went on a 9-3 run to open the fourth on 3-point basket and 3-point play by Coulsen Hardy and another 3-point bucket by Nick Barney, cutting the lead to 46-42 with five minutes left.
At that point, Holt called a timeout to settle his team down for the stretch run. While it was Holt who called the timeout, it was senior Josh Pollard who did most of the talking.
"Josh has been through a lot here at Orem and took the lead as a senior to let these guys know that they couldn't let up," said Holt. "He's been a big leader for us all year long and he gave them a bit of a pep talk there and they responded."
Orem, which prefers an up-tempo style, came out of the timeout uncharacteristically deliberate with its execution on offense.
"I don't believe in backing into winning games – especially with three or four minutes to go, but Dalton Nixon had sprained his ankle and Josh Pollard had four fouls," said Holt. "So with those two things I wanted to burn some clock with wanting to protect the lead."
The strategy worked with Orem chewing up three minutes of clock during a 4-0 run which all but decided the outcome. Olympus did its best to come back, but too many free throws made by Orem on top of too many of its own misses from 3-point range stunted the comeback bid.
"Olympus played their hearts out and gave us a great game," said Holt. "They created problems for us with their inside-out game, and hats off to them for how they competed until the end."
With the school's first basketball championship in hand, the Tigers don't plan on making it another 56 years until their next one. With a team full of underclassmen that next championship may come very soon.
"We're coming back here next year, we're not done," said Nixon. "This is the first of what we hope will be a lot of championships here at Orem — even after we're all done and graduated."
4A All-Tournament Team
MVP — Dalton Nixon, Orem
Will Cannon, Olympus
Jordan Darger, Orem5 comments on this story
Zach Hunsaker, Orem
Parker Rawlings, Olympus
Brock Yates, Bountiful