RICHFIELD — The Piute Thunderbirds had played OK during the first half of their first-round playoff game against Manila, but they hadn't been great by any stretch of the imagination.
To make sure they ultimately took care of business, however, the second-ranked T-Birds turned it up a notch at both ends of the floor in the second half and flew away from the Mustangs.
Leading by nine at halftime, Piute outscored Manila 12-6 in the third quarter and went on a quick spurt in the fourth before coasting to a 54-34 win on Wednesday at the Sevier Valley Center.
"We just decided, as a team, that we needed to come out and make a statement that we were here and that we were gonna make some noise," said guard Kelton Price.
Price, DJ Tischner and Tyson Westwood finished with 12 points apiece and the T-Birds played good but not great basketball to move on to the next round.
"You always expect more; that's just what I tell the guys. It's a good win for us at state, but I expect more and I always expect us to play at a high level," said Piute coach Steve Hoagland.
"But we got one out of the way, and that's a good one."
In the second half, Piute made sure gritty Manila didn't pull off a big upset by shutting down the Mustangs' offense. Piute also attacked the glass better, and both of those items allowed the T-Birds to permanently take control of Wednesday's contest.
"We just came back and rebounded the ball really well in the second half," said Price. "We rebounded well in the first half, but we played a little better defense in the second half and then we had guys that got up and down the floor well."
Piute finished with a rebounding advantage of 35-24 over Manila, with Price grabbing eight of those boards.
Wednesday's first-round win wasn't without its share of scares, though, for Piute, which saw Westwood, its star guard, hobble off late with an ankle injury.
Hoagland, though, said he'll be fine for Piute's quarterfinal game Thursday.
"He just tweaked that ankle a little bit, but he'll be alright," said Hoagland. "He's a tough kid."
Meanwhile, Jared Reed and Austin Brady each finished with 11 points to lead Manila, which kept fighting and fighting on Wednesday.
That fact wasn't lost on Hoagland afterward.
"That's a reflection of their coach," Hoagland said of Manila's never-say-die attitude. "I've known Scott (Taylor) for a long time, and they've got three or four seniors on that team that really compete."
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