AMERICAN FORK — Legitimate contenders win games against top teams in tough environments. Pleasant Grove (15-2) went a long way toward proving it's that type of team with a 76-70 win on the road against region foe American Fork (11-6) on Friday night.
The Vikings answered everything that was thrown at them, played clutch down the stretch, and ultimately drove home with a big region win. Guard Riley Court led the way with 20 points and made 7 of 8 free throws in the game’s final minute to ice it.
“I was happy I could hit those at the end, but it was really a team effort tonight,” Court said. “You need everyone to step up to beat a team like this and we got that.”
Indeed, the scoring ledger was balanced for the Vikings with Matt Conway adding 18 and Forrest Pinnock 12. The Cavemen were led by Tyler Rawson and Brendan Bailey, who each had 17 points.
The game was tight throughout much of the first half before Pleasant Grove made a key 12-3 run to end the half and go into the locker room up 34-25.
According to Pleasant Grove coach Randy McAllister, it was defense that provided the spark.
“I think defense really keyed that run,” he said. “We got enough stops in the second half, but yeah, the key was definitely defense when we built that lead.”
The Vikings kept the charging Cavemen at bay throughout the second half — building their lead to double digits early and maintaining that margin until the final minutes. They did that by answering every basket and every spurt of emotion American Fork had.
A rim-rocking dunk from Rawson prompted the home crowd to its feet, only to then be quieted by a 3-pointer from Pinnock seconds after. A 3-pointer from Bailey to cut the lead to nine was immediately answered by a 3-pointer from Court to put the Vikings back up 12.
“When we get scored on we don’t hesitate to push it back at them before they’re ready and get a quality shot,” McAllister said. “We did that really well tonight.”
American Fork trimmed the deficit to just five points, 70-65, with just less than a minute remaining. But that’s when Court did his best work from the line — calmly hitting on seven of his eight attempts to secure the win.
It was a performance McAllister wasn’t expecting from his junior guard on this particular night.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but he didn’t practice yesterday. He had back spasms ... so I was planning to play without him today,” McAllister said. “He gutted it up and ... he was phenomenal for us.”
The win secures at least second place in Region 4 for the Vikings, who still have a region championship within reach. They’ll next take on Lehi this coming Tuesday.
Meanwhile, American Fork falls to third in Region 4 and will next take on Lone Peak at the UCCU Center next Friday.
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