AMERICAN FORK — Good ball-handling and exceptional foul-shooting often work to solidify big leads and that was certainly the case for American Fork in a 64-55 win over Pleasant Grove on Tuesday.
Overall the Cavemen converted 21 of 23 free-throw attempts, including 14 straight to end the game, leaving their coach, Doug Meacham, generally pleased with how his team built the lead and how it closed out the game.
"We took care of the ball and made free throws. In a close game, that’s what you want to do," Meacham said.
Tuesday's game was somewhat close throughout until a key 10-2 run at the outset of the fourth quarter gave the Cavemen a surge good for a 48-35 lead with 6:21 remaining.
According to Meacham, defense keyed his team's big run, which forced Pleasant Grove into scramble mode for most of the final quarter.
“Our guys are starting to understand that defense wins,” Meacham said.
On the offensive end, it was Brendan Bailey and Spencer Johnson again leading the way. Bailey led all scorers with 25 points, despite incurring a very slow start, while Johnson added 22.
Bailey wasn't all that involved, going scoreless through the first quarter, and into the second, before ending the half with eight straight points to help his team to a 26-21 lead at the break.
From there he teamed with Johnson to do most of the heavy-lifting on offense, picking the right spots and being patient.
“They’re doing a great job — especially when a team zones you, you got to let the ball come to you a little bit,” Meacham said. “You still need to be aggressive, but find the seams and I thought they kind of did that. They attacked the right spots and they’re just real consistent for us right now. It’s been great.”
Bailey and Johnson also played central roles in the Cavemen's exceptional foul shooting down the stretch. Bailey finished with a perfect 12-12 effort from the stripe while Johnson went eight for eight.
“They’ve been in the situation, so I think that helps,” Meacham said. “They’re not worrying about it and just going up with confidence. It’s all mental at that point.”Comment on this story
With the win, American Fork improves to 8-3 in Region 4 play, a solid game and a half in front of Pleasant Grove (6-4 in region) for second place with just a game remaining until postseason play. Perhaps more importantly, the win helps build momentum, the type of which the Cavemen didn't have upon being bounced in the first round of last year's tournament.
“You want momentum going into that tournament,” Meacham said. “When you come in limping into the tournament it’s hard. I like the way our guys are battling. They’re coming to practice wanting to get better and I still think we can do some things better but these guys are hungry to finish it out strong.”