OGDEN — Just a role player, American Fork sophomore Brayden Harris came up huge for the Cavemen not once, but twice in the 5A first round Monday.
The latter was a baseline 3-pointer with under two minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, a shot that stretched American Fork’s lead over Jordan to five — a lead it never relinquished in an impressive 51-47 come-from behind victory at the Dee Events Center.
“He’s a guy that won our 3-point contest the last two years, and this year he won it with a boot on his foot,” said American Fork coach Doug Meacham.
Harris’ sharpshooting — including another 3 at the third-quarter buzzer — was among many things that went right for American Fork in the second half as it overcame an 11-point first-quarter deficit to rally for the win.
The Cavemen advance to face Syracuse in the 5A quarterfinals Wednesday at 5:50 p.m.
Turnovers plagued American Fork early, and Meacham said it’s somewhat understandable in the opening game of a state tournament.
“Jordan’s a good team. You get in the state tournament, and a lot of the guys haven’t played here before, and I think jitters had something to do with us turning it over 19 times,” said Meacham, who reminded his players their run would come.
Big man Ryan Andrus said rushing shots early was a big reason the Cavemen trailed 19-8 after the first quarter and 25-20 at the half.
The second half was an entirely different story. American Fork made a conscious effort to pound the ball inside to Andrus and Tyler Rawson, which resulted in numerous trips to the foul line.
Strong foul shooting is what ultimately helped American Fork overcome 19 turnovers. After making just 2 of 2 in the first half, it connected on 15 of 16 free throws in the second half, finishing the game at 94.4 percent.
All but five of American Fork’s 20 points in the fourth quarter came at the line.
“Seventeen for 18 from the free-throw line — sometimes that can negate bad decisions,” said Meacham.
A lot of those bad decisions occurred early, and Jordan took advantage.
Trailing 4-3 early, Jordan ended the first quarter on a 16-4 run with Marcus Gutierrez accounting for six of his 10 points in the quarter.
Gutierrez’s first basket of the game was a 3-pointer, which had to be disconcerting at the time for Meacham. Jordan has proved itself as a strong 3-point shooting team all year, and slowing that down was the foundation of American Fork’s game plan.
American Fork’s perimeter defense was great the rest of the way, as Jordan finished 3 of 13 — which included a desperation banked 3-pointer in the final minute by Chandler Smith, who led the ‘Diggers with 13 points.
Rawson led American Fork with 16 points, while Andrus added 11 points and nine rebounds.