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WEST VALLEY CITY — The Northridge Knights ousted the Copper Hills Grizzlies from the 5A boys state tournament Tuesday, 43-41 in overtime, in spite of an early offensive drought and several missed free throws down the stretch.
The Grizzlies, the No. 4 seed out of Region 3, hindered the Knights' scoring ability with tight defense and added pressure inside the key, and held a 14-13 advantage at the half.
"They were physical and kept doubling in the post," Northridge forward Karson Casteel said. "And we just couldn't hit shots."
Whether it was the pressure or bad luck, Northridge shot 11 percent in the first half.
Despite the lack of offense, the Knights were able to hang close before gaining control in the second half.
They captured the lead in the third quarter, thanks to a 3-pointer from Jesse Armistead and the strong play from Preston Christensen on the defensive end. Christensen provided a spark for the Knights, coming up with back-to-back steals and a resulting pair of free throws.
"I think we played our game the second half," Northridge coach Chad Sims said. "We got them frustrated."
Copper Hills refused to lie down, however, and the fourth quarter was marked with several turnovers on each end. With less than two minutes remaining, Dylan Carter drained a 3-pointer for the Grizzlies to cut the deficit to two, 35-33.
Copper Hills then forced Northridge to turn the ball over on its next two possessions and Tyler Lazenby tied the game, 35-35, with 45 seconds on the clock.
Regulation would end in a tie as the Knights went 0-of-2 from the line, and the Grizzlies missed a jumper.
In overtime, the ultimate decider came from Bryson Neiderhauser with less than a minute to play. Neiderhauser earned a 3-point play off a putback and free throw to put the Knights up 42-41.
With 15 seconds remaining, the Grizzlies attempted to drive to the hole but missed. Casteel was fouled on the rebound and went 1-for-2 from the line.
Down by two, Copper Hills had one final chance. A controversial offensive foul off a screen gave the ball, and eventually the win, to the Knights.
When asked about overcoming their early offensive struggles, Casteel attributed the win to tough defense.
"No matter how we execute on the offensive end, defense will keep us in games," he said. "Defense wins championships."
The contest did, in fact, come down to defense — and free throws down the final stretch.
"Our kids were actually pretty excited," Coach Sims said of the tight win. "We haven't been to the tournament in a long time."
With the victory, the Knights advance to the quarterfinals, where they will face powerful Lone Peak.
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