Bear River advanced to the state tournament with a home overtime win over Desert Hills 53-43 on Saturday night. It was fitting that the physical game pushed past regulation. There was even physicality after the final buzzer.
Bear River head coach Scott Hunt said, “I knew they would be a physical team. They are long and athletic, and they rebound well. I knew if we could hold our own on the boards we would be in good shape.”
The Bears held their own on the boards during the overtime period as McKade Mitton put the team on his back to pull down rebound after rebound. Mitton finished the game with 12 rebounds and added eight points for the Bears.
Overtime started 43-43. Stetson Summers scored Bear River’s first four points of the period before fouling out. Triston Hartfeil checked in for Summers and scored four points in the final minute.
Desert Hills came back from down three in the fourth quarter with 2:39 left to tie the game at 43 with 1:13 to play. The Thunder caused a turnover and held the ball for the final minute until initiating their final play. Bear River stole the ball and Parker Lewis had a shot to win the game, but it was hard off the glass.
Each team hit 14 field goals, but Bear River went 23-of-26 from the free-throw line while Desert Hills was just 8-of-19. Bear River’s excellent free-throw shooting went a long way to help win the playoff game.
JarDee Nessen gave Bear River the spark it needed in the first half in a play where he dove to the floor to steal a long pass. Nessen’s outlet to Lewis led to a shooting foul and two made free throws. Nessen followed up that play by taking a hard offensive foul, then hitting a 3-pointer on Bear River’s next possession. Nessen scored seven points in the game.
The Thunder made a first-half comeback behind offensive rebounding from Quincy Matthews, Trey Tanner and Taylor Houston. The offense went through Jordan Hokanson who had 20 points, including six 3-pointers. At the end of the half the Thunder held the ball for 40 seconds and ran a play for Hokanson to hit a corner trey to put Desert Hills up 23-22 at the half.
It was difficult for the Bears to score in the paint all night. Desert Hills was getting blocks and pulling down the rebound of seemingly every missed shot. The Bears couldn’t regain the lead in the second half until a pair of plays from Mitton put the Bears up by four. Mitton drove to the basket for an and-one to take the lead. On the next possession, Mitton scored another three points the old-fashioned way. From there, the Bears never relinquished the lead, although Desert Hills was able to knot things up to force overtime.
Bear River stayed in its diamond-and-one defense for most of the second half and forced the Thunder to shoot more outside shots. Desert Hills was very good on the offensive glass to give its offense the chance to score. Nessen stuck on Hokanson for the majority of the second half, helping the Bears slow down the hot shooter. Matthews took over the offensive load for Desert Hills, finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds.
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The Bears worked through Lewis for most of the game. Lewis finished with 16 points. Landon Cornwall was in foul trouble for much of the game but still chipped in 10 points.
In the end, the Bears dominated the overtime period 10-0 to give themselves a shot at a second straight deep playoff run. Bear River plays Morgan at SUU next week. Morgan beat Bear River in last year’s state championship game.
Casey Zundel is a husband and father of three, USU alum and Utah high school sports fan living in Smithfield. Follow him on Twitter @caseyzundel and find more of his work at tremontonleader.com.