SOUTH JORDAN — In the first half of their nonregion game against Fremont on Tuesday night, the top-ranked Bingham Miners couldn't get their high-octane offense going and shot free throws like there was a lid on the rim.
But in times like those, the Miners know where to turn — to a physical and relentless defense and it paid off. Bingham fought off some first-half sluggishness to avoid what looked to be a true upset bid to defeat the Silver Wolves, 56-39.
"I think we've decided that we're going to win games when we don't play great with our defense," said Miners coach Mark Dubach. "And when we play great we're going to shoot it like we did last week."
Bingham looked unstoppable in wins over Bountiful and Timpanogos to start the season. The Miners won those two games by an average of 34 points and made a total of 20 3-pointers in the victories.
That type of firepower wasn't to be found against Fremont, and the Silver Wolves' defense can be credited for it, especially in the first half.
"They were really physical," said Bingham center Ben Clifford, who was the only player to score for the Miners in the first quarter and finished with a team high 16 points. "That was the main thing and we were pretty passive."
The Miners, who trailed by three at halftime, didn't do themselves any favors with freebies either. They shot 1-for-7 at the free-throw line in the first half, and missed their first three foul shots of the second half.
But it seemed like everything just clicked for Bingham at once in the second half. The Miners got their up-tempo game going, continued to play great defense and started swishing some foul shots. A 16-2 run in the third quarter gave them a 33-24 lead and Fremont didn't get any closer than seven points the rest of the way.
Bingham improved to 3-0, while Fremont, which was led by Patrick Fishburn's 16 points, fell to 4-1.
Michael Arnell anchored the Miners' defense from the perimeter, keeping the Silver Wolves from getting many decent looks from the outside. The Silver Wolves made just two baskets and scored six points in the decisive third quarter.
"I was probably most impressed with Michael Arnell defensively," Dubach said. "He played his butt off on defense. He did a great job."
Arnell had to pick it up on defense because fellow senior Shad Sommerville was in foul trouble for much of the game. Sommerville did, however, help the Miners get going offensively in the second half with some strong drives, baskets and passes to wide open teammates.
Sommerville was the only other Bingham player besides Clifford to score in double figures. He had 10 points.
"They just have so many weapons," said Fremont coach Corey Melaney. "It's pick your poison with them. Sommerville's penetration killed us in the second half."
It was a quality win for the Miners, and Clifford admitted they may have taken Fremont lightly after winning so big in their first two games. Bingham learned it has plenty to work on, and perhaps most of all its free throw shooting. After starting 1-for-10 at the line, the Miners finished shooting 11-for-24 in foul shots.
"I'd say right now it's pretty bad," Arnell said. "We got a lot of practicing to do on that. We just got to be more confident in games."