DRAPER After seeing their lead whittled down to just two points with less than 40 seconds remaining, the North Sanpete Hawks used clutch free-throw shooting to hold on and grab a 50-42 tough road win Friday over the Juan Diego Soaring Eagle.
"We've been struggling with our free throws lately, so those were some really big ones down the stretch," North Sanpete head coach Bull Keisel said.
The win takes North Sanpete to 4-2 in region play and gives the Hawks a bit of a cushion at second place in the Region 8 standings. Second place would give North Sanpete home-court advantage for the first round of the state tournament.
"If we drop our next two games, we could still possibly tie," Keisel said. "With this win, we've positioned ourselves where we want to be, though."
After trading baskets early in the first, the Hawks pulled away late in the quarter by scoring the final seven points off a Shawn Seely 3-pointer, a Russell Christensen layup and a Justin Curtis jumper to take a six-point lead into the break.
In the second quarter, Michael Falvo came off the bench to liven up the Soaring Eagle offense, scoring Juan Diego's first five points. By halftime, the Soaring Eagle cut the Hawks' lead to three.
North Sanpete's tenacious defense and offense firepower from Christensen were the difference in the third quarter. Christensen contributed six points and one beautiful assist for a wide-open layup by Jared Bailey to lead the Hawks to a twelve point advantage at the end of the period.
"Russell has an MCL tear on the inside of his knee and he still hustles like that," Keisel said. "He just works hard all the time."
Christensen manhandled the Soaring Eagle on the boards, grabbing 15 total. North Sanpete outrebounded Juan Diego 42-20 overall, which was the difference in the game.
The Soaring Eagle scored the first five points of the fourth to cut the lead to seven and then put on a full-court press that flustered the Hawks and enabled Juan Diego to cut the lead to two with less than a minute remaining.
"Sonny (Tangaro, Juan Diego's head coach) is such a good coach," Keisel said. "That press was well executed and timed. I have such respect for him."
Following a Juan Diego turnover, a delay of game call with 39 seconds remaining, the second of the game for the Soaring Eagle, put Seely at the line for two technical free throws for North Sanpete. He nailed both and the Hawks got the ball back. Carson Jorgensen converted two more free throws and Christensen proceeded to add a free throw and a bucket to put the game away for good.Christensen had 18 points to go along with his 15 boards to lead North Sanpete, while Devin Thomas had 16 points and Falvo added 14 for the Soaring Eagle.