OGDEN — It wasn’t pretty, but American Fork is moving on to the 5A semifinals, something not even last year’s talented team could accomplish.
In a defensive, sloppy-at-times quarterfinal Wednesday at the Dee Events Center that featured 11 ties and 13 lead changes, American Fork held upset-minded Syracuse scoreless over the final three minutes to rally for the 41-37 victory.
“State tournament, you’ve just got to take what they give you and roll with it,” said American Fork center Ryan Andrus, who led all scorers with 22 points to go along with 11 rebounds.
Neither team could get much of anything going all game, but American Fork found its groove late, scoring the game’s final seven points to secure its spot in Friday’s semifinal against Alta.
With American Fork trailing 37-34 with just over three minutes remaining — Syracuse’s largest lead of the game — the 6-foot-10 Andrus started to take over. He scored on a layup with 3:00 remaining, and then tied the game at 37-37 a minute later by making 1 of 2 free throws.
His most important basket was actually his easiest.
During a timeout with 1:50 remaining, American Fork coach Doug Meacham drew up an inbounds play that called for Tyler Rawson to throw the ball straight into Andrus in the post. Andrus ended up getting inside position, caught the pass and immediately dunked it to give his team a 39-37 lead.
Meacham challenged his big men — Rawson and Andrus — to make a play, and they most certainly did.
Syracuse still had plenty of time to answer back, but American Fork’s defense was suffocating. It blocked a shot by Diante Mitchell with 50 seconds remaining, and after an offensive rebound forced a Syracuse turnover with under 25 seconds left.
Senior Dan Nyman then calmly stepped to the foul line with 19.1 seconds remaining and knocked down two free throws to extend the Cavemen lead to 41-37 and realistically ice the game.
Meacham said it was a moment Nyman earned through years of dedication.
“He’s one of those players that sneaks into the gym when it’s locked or closed and his dad comes down and feeds him rebounds,” said Meacham.
Nyman said he was a bit nervous, but it was a moment “everybody dreams about.”
American Fork fought back from a big deficit in the first round against Jordan, and that comeback kept the Caveman positive despite the minor fourth-quarter deficit.
“I was thinking about the Jordan game. We fought back in that one. I think our guys, we have a great unit; we all believe in each other; and we all do our jobs and I think that’s what wins games,” said Nyman.
Great defense helps too. American Fork held Syracuse to 29 percent shooting and limited leading scorer Mitchell to just 10 points, nearly 10 below his season average.
“Christian Wells just takes that as his M.O., go out and harass and keep their players off guard and he’s done a good job with good players all year,” said Meacham.