OREM — Saturday morning’s highly anticipated opening game of the Class 2A State Tournament between Manti and Emery featured several wild and significant momentum swings.
In the time it took to run to the concession stand, the score often changed significantly.
For Emery, despite some atrocious free-throw shooting in the fourth quarter, it did just enough down the stretch to secure the momentum and hang on for the 64-59 victory at Orem High School.
“I thought it would be a pretty good battle, and I was real happy with the way our guys responded,” said Emery coach Todd Jeffs. “I haven’t seen Manti live this year, I’d just seen them on video tape, and I didn’t appreciate how physical they were.”
That physical play proved to be both a positive and a detriment for Manti.
The physicality allowed Manti to dominate the glass, but it also contributed to Emery attempting 36 free throws. Even though the Spartans struggled from the charity stripe, they made just enough (21 of 36) to secure their place in the 2A quarterfinals at Southern Utah University next Thursday.
“We’ve had games where we’ve shot the lights out from the free-throw line and we’ve had games where we can’t buy one. We’re quite inconsistent, and not just with free-throw shooting but with a lot of parts of our game,” said Jeffs.
Three of those free throw makes came in what proved to be the final momentum swing of the game.
With Emery leading 57-56 after a 3-pointer by Manti’s Jamen Miller, who led all scorers with 25 points, Manti was whistled for a reaching foul and then a technical foul. Even though Emery only made 3-of-6 free throws in the possession, it extended the lead to 60-56 and Manti never recovered.
“That’s basketball, it’s often a game of momentum shifts,” said Jeffs.
Emery will next face first-round surprise winner Waterford in the 2A quarterfinals at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday.
Dillon Wilstead led Emery in the victory with 17 points, while big man Dawson Jensen chipped in with 16 points and team captain Bailey Faimalo added 12.
“It’s tough knowing you’re playing Manti first round. You don’t expect to win,” said Faimalo. “We just stuck to our game plan and luckily we hung on for the win.”
Early on, it looked like Manti might run away with the victory as it jumped out to a quick 12-3 lead with Emery struggling against the full-court press. Emery eventually settled down, ripping off a 21-4 run to end the quarter.
Jeffs joked that he knew his team couldn’t maintain its 96-point pace, but the early lead helped his player realize there was nothing to be intimidated about.
Trailing 24-16 after the first quarter, Manti stepped up the defense and trimmed the lead to 28-26 with 2:56 remaining in the second quarter. Emery hit some big shots in the final two minutes of the half though to extend the lead to 35-28.
Manti came out hot in the second half, using an 11-4 run to tie the game at 39-39 with 3:35 remaining. The Templars maintained the momentum and eventually took their first lead since the first quarter at 47-45 on a 3-pointer by T.J. Pogroszeski early in the fourth quarter.
Manti extended the lead to 49-45, but Emery didn’t panic and jumped back in front with an 8-0 run of its own over the next four minutes en route to the win.
“It’s a little misfortune, it always seems two really good teams get matched up early. It’s too bad that both of us aren’t going to Cedar City next week, but I’m glad it’s us and not them,” said Jeffs.
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