CEDAR CITY — When healthy, Morgan was the best team in 3A this season, a point it emphatically proved one last time at Southern Utah University on Saturday night.
Spurred on by another phenomenal, suffocating defensive effort, Morgan took control of the game in the first half and then withstood a late charge from Cedar to capture its second straight 3A state championship with a 59-45 victory.
Morgan won all four games in this year’s state tournament by double digits, finishing the season on a 16-game winning streak.
“The whole week we just played as a team. We’ve been playing together since fourth grade. We just love each other so much,” said Morgan’s Garren Miles, who led all scorers with 16 points. “We don’t ever get mad at each other. We just smile at each other, and say, ‘Let’s go, let’s go.’ That’s been our motto all year, ‘Let’s go.’”
Morgan becomes the third 3A team in the past decade to win back-to-back titles, with Wasatch accounting for the other two (2003-2004 and 2010-2011).
The players believed they could win it all season, but coach Jim Wiscombe continually reminded them it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park.
“I think they thought that in their mind, but I still don’t think they realized how hard it was going to be. But they stepped up and did it all year long,” said Wiscombe.
The decisive run for the Trojans in the title game came in the second quarter, just as it did the night before in the 3A semifinals against Payson.
Leading 16-13 midway through the second quarter, the Trojans ramped up the defensive pressure to close the half on a 12-0 run to take a 28-13 lead. Ben Saunders accounted for seven of the 12 points, finishing with nine in the half.
Morgan forced 11 first-half turnovers to build the big lead, with Cedar finishing the game with 21.
“We just focused on defense and from there we got some easy steals and then we got some easy baskets,” said Morgan senior Matt Murdock.
Those turnovers were simply too much for Cedar to overcome. It finished the game shooting 47 percent (15 of 32), but way too many possessions ended without a shot attempt.
In that dominant first half, Morgan’s defense held Cedar’s big two of Dustin Staggs and Kordan Nielson to just five combined points — they average a combined 32.
Cedar came out with much more energy in the third quarter, with Weston Bettridge knocking down a couple of baseline 3-pointers. Six more turnovers, however, prevented Cedar from chipping away at Morgan’s 15-point halftime lead, as the Redmen still trailed 39-24.
Cedar wasn’t about to go quietly in front of the packed, pro-Cedar Centrum. Ty Liston and Nielson buried back-to-back 3s to open the fourth quarter and two more free throws by Nielson cut Morgan’s lead to 39-32 with 5:48 remaining.
Morgan responded with a couple of quick scores, including a 3-pointer by Miles, to stretch the lead back to 48-35 with 3:15 left.
“We knew they’d have a run sometime in the game, so we just picked the defense up and played like we usually do,” said Murdock.
Nielson and Staggs still scored points like they usually do, finishing with 15 and 12 points, respectively, but the majority of those came in the fourth quarter as Cedar desperately tried to rally to no avail.
Bridger Streadbeck added 12 points for Morgan, with Saunders and Hunter Stanford adding 11.
Deseret News 3A All-Tournament Team
MVP: Garren Miles, Morgan
Matt Murdock, Morgan
Bridger Streadbeck, Morgan
Kordan Nielson, Cedar
Dustin Staggs, Cedar
Nate Gottfredson, Snow Canyon
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