Last week against Carbon, my head just wasn't in the game. I just wasn't playing hard. My focus (tonight) was just to be stronger and do what my team needs. —American Fork junior Ryan Andrus
AMERICAN FORK — Ryan Andrus wasn't particularly pleased with how he played in last week's season opener for American Fork.
Despite finishing with 12 points and 10 rebounds in the comfortable victory over Carbon, Andrus said his head just wasn't in the game for whatever reason and he made several silly fouls as a result.
On Friday night, visiting Bountiful found out what can happen when the 6-foot-9 center has his head in the game.
The junior poured in a career-high 29 points and played outstanding interior defense to lead the Cavemen to the tightly-contested 48-44 victory over Bountiful.
"That was a lot of fun," said Andrus. "Last week against Carbon, my head just wasn't in the game. I just wasn't playing hard. My focus (tonight) was just to be stronger and do what my team needs."
That included coming up with the defensive play of the game according to coach Doug Meacham.
With American Fork leading 47-44, Andrus bounced out to the perimeter to contest a game-tying 3-point attempt from Bountiful's Pere LeSueur with 10 seconds remaining. The shot bounced high off the rim, with A.F.'s Taylor Larsen pulling down the rebound and then icing the victory by making 1 of 2 from the foul line.
"To me, understanding that defense wins, it was kind of fitting for me to see Ryan make that big play," said Meacham, whose team held Bountiful to 34 percent shooting.
The offensive end of the court is where Andrus really shined though, particularly in the first half as he scored 17 of his 29 points. Despite that stellar play, the Cavemen trailed 25-24 at the half, which Meacham said wasn't necessarily a bad thing on a team with zero returning starters.
"That's why we love playing a team like Bountiful. They're always good, they're always well coached, and I want our young guys to go against pressure," said Meacham.
They got to experience some of that pressure late in the second quarter. Trailing 24-18 midway through the quarter, Bountiful forced American Fork into four turnovers and closed the half on a 7-0 run to take the 25-24 lead.
Bountiful and American Fork continued to trade baskets throughout the third quarter and well into the fourth quarter, with the Cavemen clinging to the narrowest of leads throughout.
It was only fitting that Andrus provided the biggest offensive play of the game as well down the stretch. With American Fork leading 43-42, Andrus converted a three-point play near the rim to extend the lead to 46-42 with 3:36 remaining.
Sam Merrill scored two of his 14 points on Bountiful's next possession to whittle the lead to 46-44, but neither team scored again over the next two minutes.
American Fork guard Kyle Line eventually extended the lead to 47-44 after he picked Merrill's pocket on a crossover dribble and then made 1-of-2 free throws following a fast break foul.
Contribution like that from Line, who only scored four points, is why Andrus really likes the make-up of this year's team.
"Last year we had some team players, but we also had some individual stuff. But this year, players know their roles and they can come in and do what they need to do to contribute to the team. I think we have more of a unified team this year," he said.
It's early, but so far the results have been good for the 2-0 Cavemen.