OGDEN — To win a state championship, sometimes you’ve got to win ugly.
For Morgan, which hasn’t won a boys basketball state championship since 1974, ugly was never more beautiful than it was Friday.
Despite suffering through one of its worst offensive performances of the year, and being held scoreless for all but three seconds of the final 4:24 of Friday’s 3A semifinal, No. 1 Morgan somehow found a way to survive, and that elusive state title is still within sight.
Jake Miles drained two free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining, and Wasatch’s running 3-pointer at the buzzer bounced harmlessly off the backboard as Morgan held on for a thrilling 52-50 victory over the Wasps at the Dee Events Center.
Morgan will take on region rival Bear River — which it beat by one point twice this year — in the 3A championship game at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night.
“It’s going to be great. This place is going to be packed. It’s going to be an awesome environment and I can’t wait,” said Miles.
Morgan’s leading scorer struggled from the field all night, but still finished with 20 points as he consistently got to the free-throw line and made 12 of 14.
“I was struggling from the field, but I was finding other ways to score, getting the free throws. They played real good defense on me, and I struggled tonight. It was good that other kids picked up the slack and I got the W,” said Miles.
Underdog Wasatch, a team most figured wouldn’t even make it out of the first round, looked poised for the upset most of the night. It jumped to a 9-0 lead on Morgan and still led 23-19 at the half.
“They were mixing things up defensively and we had a tough time with it. They ran some box-and-1s on Jake and kind of took him out of the game, and we didn’t take advantage of some holes that were in the defense,” said Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe.
The Trojans quickly tied it up in the third quarter, but neither team led by more than three points until Morgan started to pull away midway through the fourth.
With the game tied 41-41, Miles converted a three-point play with 5:24 remaining to give his team a 44-41 lead. Morgan followed it up with stifling defense, forcing Wasatch into two quick turnovers.
Skinner then tacked on another free throw with 4:24 remaining to increase the lead to 50-41, and it looked like the victory was a foregone conclusion.
Wasatch had other ideas.
Taking advantage of some turnovers and a few ill-advised shots by Morgan, the Wasps whittled the deficit to 50-42, then 50-44, then 50-46 , then 50-48. They incredibly tied the game at 50-50 with 1:42 remaining on a Nate Dow layup.
“We had a couple offensive mishaps where we didn’t capitalize on the offensive end and they executed on their end and they were able to score buckets and we didn’t match them,” said Miles.
After Morgan settled for another bad shot, Wasatch was in great position to take the lead but missed a layup with 1:13 remaining.
Not wanting to risk another bad decision, Wiscombe called a timeout and instructed his team to play for the last shot. As the clock ticked down around seven seconds, Miles curled around a screen, drove into the lane and was fouled as he put up a shot.
Miles calmly stepped to the line and drained the free throws to send Morgan to its second state championship in three years.