MORGAN — For a team that played a virtually flawless first half of basketball — one coach Jim Wiscombe called the best he's ever seen — Morgan sure had to sweat it out until the final minute Friday night.
Despite nearly blowing a 21-point lead, though, the Trojans held on for a 72-64 victory over visiting Judge to seize control of the Region 11 race.
"For us it's huge. In order to win this region you have to take care of home court. It's a big difference between the one seed and the two seed in the state tournament in our region," said Wiscombe.
Comfortably ahead by 21 points midway through the second quarter, Morgan started to relax. It was a bad idea against a Judge team that never seemed rattled by Morgan's ridiculous first-half efficiency.
The Bulldogs methodically chipped away at the deficit, cutting it to three and four points on several occasions midway through the fourth quarter. They had numerous chances to cut into it more, but nobody could bury the big shot.
Morgan's Jared Brooks eventually did. His 3-pointer with 1:56 remaining increased the Trojans' lead to 66-59, and they knocked down 6-of-8 free throws down the stretch to ice it.
"We've struggled all year with the third-quarter letdown and don't have quite as much energy as we need. We talked about it and we tried to get our team going, but we just came out a little flat," said Morgan's Casey Evans. "They slowed us down, but we still got it down."
With the victory Morgan (11-6, 5-1) moved a game ahead of Judge (9-8, 4-2), Bear River and Juan Diego in region with four games remaining.
"We knew if we lost this game region was going to be a heck of struggle to get to, but if we won it we'd be sitting pretty," said Evans.
Despite the obvious frustration of seeing his defense struggle with the quickness of Judge point guard Daniel Shiramizu in the second half, it was tough for Wiscombe to be too disappointed after a perfect first half.
Morgan shot 70 percent from the field in the first half and came away with points on 19 of 22 possessions. Of its seven missed shots in the opening half, it grabbed the offensive rebound six times.
"We just kind of got rhythm going at the start of the game and stayed on fire," said Evans.
It was a crushing reality for Judge, which actually played well in the first half but still trailed 40-25. It wasn't an entirely unfamiliar position, however. In a 64-54 loss to Morgan in the first game of region earlier this month, the Bulldogs trailed 19-8 after the first quarter. On Friday it trailed 22-10.
Shiramizu's 17 points, along with 16 from Colin Lawless and 14 from Jacob Gondrezick, spurred the Judge rally.
It wasn't enough to overcome Morgan's perfect first half.