OGDEN — It's been a long time since Murray High has been relevant on the basketball court. Not since the 1997 season, when former Utah player Britton Johnsen sported the orange and black, have the Spartans earned a berth in the state semifinals.
The suffering has officially come to a screeching halt after Murray defeated Brighton in eye-opening fashion, 76-65, in the Purple Palace at Weber State on Wednesday.
"I think it's big for anybody, but our kids wanted to do something special — you get one shot, make it a memorable one," said Murray coach Jason Workman.
Murray (Region 2's No. 1 seed) looked hardly impressive in the opening round on Monday against Copper Hills, trailing at halftime before breaking it open in the second half. With Brighton's (Region 4's No. 4 seed) ability to shoot in transition, it was a major concern.
"We knew we couldn't play the same way we did in the first round, and I think that's pretty common and I was pleased," stated Workman, "Obviously, we turned the ball over way too much, but Brighton's a good team — that's what they do. They make you hurry up. We talked to our kids, the John Wooden 'play fast but don't hurry.' "
This time around, things seemed to skip to a different beat. The Spartans dominated in every aspect of the game, outrebounding Brighton 43-27, outscoring the Bengals 50-22 in the paint and holding them to 37 percent shooting from the field.
The underlying story line was the matchup in the dungeons with the battle of big men in the post — Murray's David Collette and Brighton's Austin Hudson.
Collette undoubtedly showed why he's considered by some to be the best player in the state.
The 6-foot-8 center got off to a fast start, scoring five quick points to help put the Spartans go up 7-0 in the first quarter. The Bengals fought back and ended the first period trailing 17-12.
That's when Collette ignited.
To start the second period he once again scored the first three buckets, all of them coming from the low block, in pushing the Spartans' lead to 23-17.
After Orhan Agovic added a basket, Collette then streaked for six more points before Joe Cosby nailed a half-court shot to end the half, making it 34-24.
From that point on, Murray never led by less than double figures.
"I've said before that I thought he was the best player in the state and I do," Workman said of Collette. "I think he's the best player for the next level in our state as well. He's so valuable because he can play both ends of the floor; he can actually go out and guard people on the perimeter. He can shot-fake and drive, handle the ball well — he's a versatile kid."
Collette had already poured in 17 points by halftime.
"I kind of watched (Hudson), I knew he was a big kid and physical," said Collette. "I knew that I could take him and work my outside game (to) get him to come out on me and then take it in, and it worked perfectly."
The usually sure-shooting Bengals seemed to be in a funk the entire afternoon, in large part due to Murray's defensive pressure. Both Collette and Agovic controlled the paint from start to finish.
Brighton's Corbin Miller, who came into the game as the Bengals' leading scorer at 18 points per game, was reluctant to put the ball on the floor because of the interior presence.
Instead, Miller was left trying to find his shooting touch from 25 feet away. Miller finished 6 for 19 from the field and 3 of 10 from 3-point territory. Without his offensive output, the Bengals were left searching for different options.
With the huge second-half lead, Murray slowed things down and executed in the half-court set, forcing Brighton to foul extremely early in the fourth quarter.
The Spartans hit 18 of 21 from the charity stripe to close out the game and punch a ticket to the semifinals.
"I think our kids have finished well all year, that's 13 in a row," said Workman. "Our kids play real well in the fourth quarter, they finish games well. They know how to win."
Collette finished 13 of 21 for 33 points while connecting on 7 of 10 from the line, along with nine boards and four blocks.
Agovic notched a double-double with 13 points and 13 rebounds for the Spartans.
"It's huge for us and it's a big statement," said Collette on finally making it to the semifinals. "It's putting us back on the map."
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