OGDEN — Earlier this year, Lone Peak nearly blew a 23-point lead in a victory over Hillcrest. Coach Quincy Lewis referenced the game often throughout the rest of the season when talking to his team about avoiding complacency with a lead.
Never in his wildest dreams could he have imagine he'd need to flip-flop the scenarios to fire up his own team. Incredibly though, that's what the No. 1 Knights faced down 15 at the half against Fremont in Friday's first 5A semifinal.
"We knew we could come back because Hillcrest came back on us. We knew it could be done," said Lone Peak's Jordan Hamilton.
The Knights didn't just believe they could rally for the win, they actually did it.
Spurred on by a suffocating half-court zone defense that had Fremont flustered the entire half, Lone Peak erased the deficit early in the fourth quarter and then executed just well enough down the stretch to survive with a 58-55 victory in a thrilling atmosphere at the Dee Events Center.
The victory was Lone Peak's 23rd of the season, but it was by far the toughest.
"We've never been down by 15. Now we know we have the heart to come back," said Nick Emery, whose team will play for the 5A state championship today at 1 p.m.
Fremont had a chance to tie the game at the buzzer, but Patrick Fishburn's baseline 3-pointer came up short to spoil an impressive 19-point, six-rebound performance for the 'Wolves leading scorer.
The miss capped a wild game in which momentum swung back and forth numerous times in the final minute.
Trailing 53-52 with 43 seconds remaining, Fishburn converted a critical layup after Fremont had extended the possession with two offensive rebounds. He missed his and-one free throw, but the 'Wolves were in great shape leading 54-53 — especially after blowing the 17-point lead they enjoyed at the 6:46 mark of the third quarter.
Momentum quickly swung back in Lone Peak's favor as Hamilton grabbed his own offensive rebound and converted it into a three-point play to put the Knights ahead 56-54 with 25 seconds left.
"I thought he got pushed around there in the first half, but he got his feet on the ground in the second," said Lewis.
Fremont's Aaron Van Woerkom had a chance to level the score from the line 10 seconds later, but he only made 1-of-2 free throws. Once again Fremont corralled the offensive rebound, but Nick Vigil's wild layup bounced off the rim and Van Woerkom's follow-up missed as well with eight seconds remaining.
After Lone Peak freshman T.J. Haws extended the lead to 58-55 with a pair of free throws with 7.7 seconds left, Fremont wasted 7.1 of those seconds advancing the ball up the court before Fremont coach Corey Melaney called a timeout. With so little time, it's not surprising Fishburn's wild 3-pointer at the buzzer wasn't really that close.
Justifiably so, Lone Peak celebrated afterward more so than at any point this season.
The largest deficit No. 1-ranked Lone Peak faced at the half all season was four — a game it lost, coincidentally enough. So one can imagine the anxiety in the locker room at the half with the Knights down 15.
"It wasn't any yelling and screaming; it was just simply, 'We have to adjust to the physicality of this game. There's a long way to go,'" said Lewis, recounting his halftime chat.
Fremont could do little wrong in the first half, as it shot 54 percent in racing to a 38-23 lead after outscoring the shocked Knights 23-8 in the second quarter.
It extended the lead to 43-26 on a Van Woerkom 3-pointer with 6:46 left in the third, but things began to unravel quickly after that.
High school championships today
Class 5A boys
At Weber State University
Lone Peak (23-1) vs. American Fork (19-4), 1 p.m.
Class 4A Boys
At Weber State University
Bountiful (20-5) vs. Highland (20-3), 3:30 p.m.
Class 1A Boys
At Sevier Valley Center
Wasatch Academy (20-3) vs. Liahona(19-5), 5 p.m.