Matt Gade, Deseret News
GRANTSVILLE — With the final three rounds of the 3A state tournament taking place at nearby Southern Utah University, no team stood to benefit more from winning its first-round game than Cedar.
That unique opportunity and a pair of terrific performances from its two biggest stars helped fuel Cedar’s gritty 50-45 victory at Region 11 co-champion Grantsville on Saturday night.
Dustin Staggs scored 24 points and Kordan Nielson added 15 — including six clutch free throws in the final 48 seconds — as Cedar punched its ticket to the 3A quarterfinals next week despite a boisterous home crowd.
“We knew they were going to be loud, obnoxious. But that’s Region 9 — it’s loud every game. If we just weathered their storm we’d be all right,” said Nielson.
Considering that 14 of Cedar’s 21 games this year had been decided by single digits, Cedar coach Craig Cardon liked his team’s chances, figuring the game would be close.
“We’ve been here before. Our region does a great job preparing us,” said Cardon.
In a matchup between the two best scoring defenses in 3A, it was no surprise the game was tight for most of the night.
On two occasions in the second half, though, Cedar seemed poised to pull away. It built a 30-20 lead with 1:52 left in the third quarter as Stagg scored 10 of Cedar’s first 12 points in the second half. Grantsville, however, responded right back with a 9-0 run capped by Nick Arbon’s 3-pointer early in the fourth.
Cedar regained a cushion again with 3:41 left as Nielson stole the ball in transition and then buried a pair of free throws for the 41-33 lead.
Grantsville again had a response, this one a 6-0 run to cut Cedar’s lead to 41-39 with 2:41 remaining.
“Every time we’d get a little bit of a lead they’re bring it back. But Stagg was huge and Kord’s huge. Everybody knows we have two great guys and hopefully they’re good enough to have us play late in the tournament,” said Cardon.
After the teams traded buckets, Grantsville was forced to begin fouling to extend the game, and Cedar made sure the ball stayed in Nielson’s hands.
“I would want him to shoot every free throw every time. He’s a phenomenal shooter. He has unbelievable confidence and unbelievable work ethic,” said Cardon.
With 48 seconds remaining, he sank two free throws to extend Cedar’s lead to 45-41. After Grantsville’s Tyler Colson buried a baseline 3-pointer that bounced off the rim and then the backboard to make it a one-point game, Nielson again made a pair of free throws with 18.9 seconds left for the 47-44 lead.
Following a timeout, Grantsville elected to attack the basket instead of looking for a 3-pointer, but Cedar’s defense forced a difficult shot nonetheless, which in many ways was the difference all night as Grantsville shot a frustrating 17 of 45 from the field.
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