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OREM — Most people were anticipating a Lone Peak vs. West Jordan final in the Great Western Shootout, but Orem scuttled those plans, shocking the Knights 57-51.
"Lone Peak coming in they were the No. 1 team — we were the underdogs … we were second place to them, but now we're No. 1 place to them," said sophomore forward Dalton Nixon.
To say the game was intense would be an understatement — physical play, hard fouls and even some technical fouls thrown in defined the play on both sides of the court. Lone Peak star guard Nick Emery was on the wrong end of a lot of the early physical play, picking up his third foul with just 6:46 left in the second quarter with Lone Peak up 22-14.
He subsequently had to sit on the bench for the rest of the first half, but Lone Peak was still able to maintain their eight-point lead, taking a 35-27 lead into the half. Fellow phenom TJ Haws was able to pick a lot of the slack, scoring eight points in the second quarter which included two half-ending 3-point buckets.
After the half, it was all Orem.
"We were down at the half, but coach told us that we were going to be tied at the end of the third quarter," said Nixon. "It was almost tied at the end of the quarter, and we just looked into their eyes and we could tell that they'd never been in a situation like that."
Lone Peak held the lead and even increased it during the third quarter, finding themselves up 42-32 with just over three minutes remaining. Orem closed out strong, however, with three straight 3-point baskets to go into the final quarter down just 44-43.
During the fourth quarter, Orem used a great defensive effort, forcing the Knights to multiple perimeter shot attempts that just were not falling, Emery was held to just two points for the entire second half, finishing with just 12 points for the game.
"We just had a good team effort," said junior point guard Zach Hunsaker.
"We had to run him off the 3s, but we knew we had good help behind us to help him from getting to the basket. It was just a great team effort with everyone stepping up big."
Orem took their first lead just seconds after the start of the final quarter with a basket by senior forward Christian Clark. They then held the Knights to without a field goal until the one-minute mark when Connor Toolson converted a three-point play to cut the margin to 54-51.
Two big defensive stops defined the Tiger's collective defensive effort during the final quarter. With two and a half minutes left and Orem up 50-48, sophomore guard Cooper Holt was able to strip Haws of the basketball, taking the ball the length of the court and converting on a layup.
The defensive play that all but sealed the deal for Orem was Nixon swatting away a shot attempt by Haws with 37 seconds left and Orem with a 54-51 lead.
Hunsaker led the Tigers with 16 points, following by Josh Pollard with 11 and Nixon with 10. Lone Peak was led by Haws who led all scorers with 24 points on the night.
What the game meant to the Orem program, its coaches and its players was fully expressed by coach Golden Holt following the game.
Holt has coached most of Lone Peak's starting lineup as their AAU coach since they were in grade school and was understandably emotional as a result.21 comments on this story
"That's as good as high school basketball gets," he said. "I can't talk because I'm so hoarse, but I love those boys — I felt like I was coaching against myself, but it doesn't get any better than that. To beat the best you have to beat the best and Lone Peak is the best — that's the fact."
Holt said it was all about showing great character by his players.
"I told these guys before the game that they'd been second place to the boys up north for a lot of years," said Holt. "I said that they had a chance tonight to prove that they weren't second place, and the character they showed in (winning) — I couldn't be prouder."