I thought we did (improve) tonight in a lot of areas. We got better, No. 1, and secondly, we found a way to win down the wire. —Viewmont head coach Jeff Emery
BOUNITFUL — Each night, the Viewmont boys basketball team is focused on improving on its last performance.
In the Vikings’ Wednesday night home victory over Highland, Viewmont head coach Jeff Emery was pleased with how his team handled losing a lead without losing the game.
“I thought we did (improve) tonight in a lot of areas,” he said after his team's 60-54 win. “We got better, No. 1, and secondly, we found a way to win down the wire.”
After holding their largest lead of 10 points late in the second quarter, the Vikings gave up 32 points and seven 3-pointers in the second half, allowed the Rams to tie the score three times in the fourth quarter, and then leaned on senior McKay Johnson’s rebounds and free throws in the final minutes to preserve the victory.
“They tie it and we still find a way to score, finally get a rebound, didn’t make enough free throws but enough to not lose,” Emery said. “(That is) what I was most pleased about. Even though we didn’t take the 10-point lead and stretch it to 15, even though we let them make the run and turn it into a game down the wire, that’s a valuable experience as well.”
Highland entered the game, its first of the season, with hot shooting hands. Led by senior forward Henry Morris, the Rams hit four 3s in the first quarter and opened the second with another.
Over the next four minutes and 30 seconds, however, Viewmont squashed the Highland momentum with a 14-0 run, establishing a 10-point lead, 28-18.
“We just got more consistent stops through that stretch,” Emery said. “We got into some transition opportunities, and that helped energize that mini-run we had.”
Johnson had eight of the points in that run, a total that was just a small fraction of his 26-point, 10-rebound night.
“I thought last Tuesday against Clearfield he just didn’t play very energized,” Emery said of his team captain. “We challenged him. We said, ‘We know you can play, but you’ve got to play both ends of the floor.’ I think he really took that to heart and tonight it started with his energy, defending, rebounding, and that transferred into his ability to score the ball.”
Throughout the game, Johnson grabbed boards on both ends of the floor, connected on 9 of 13 free-throw attempts, and created opportunities by attacking the basket.
“It felt like he was all over the court,” Emery said, “and that happens because he played with a lot of energy.”
The Rams turned the game back into a contest with more hot shooting in the second half. Morris, senior Jake Connor and sophomore Ryan Lambson started the second half with back-to-back-to-back 3s, and then Connor added a 3-point-play before Brandon Warr added another trey.
Spencer Divver hit two more 3-pointers in the fourth to tie the score at 48-48 with 4:41 left. The Highland squad finished 12 for 29 behind the arc, and Morris, Connor and Divver attempted 11, eight and five long shots, respectively. In comparison, the Vikings shot just 3 for 9 from 3-point range, led by Johnson’s 1-for-3 performance.
“The 3-point line has turned into such a weapon,” Emery said. “That’s just their strength. We’d get beat initially off the dribble, which draws more defenders, and now you’ve got shooters just licking their chops for that draw-and-kick. They did a good job of that and, to their credit, they didn’t go away from it.”
Morris led the Rams with 23 points and Connor had 13 points and four boards. For the Vikings, Austin Johnson added 13 points and eight rebounds.
“We try and emphasize,” Emery said, “whatever ends up happening, we’ve got to take each of these experiences in the preseason and use that as opportunities to help us be more confident when we’re in that position again.”
Sarah Thomas earned a degree in Mathematics from the University of Utah and is currently pursuing an MBA at Westminster College. She has been covering sports for the Deseret News since 2008.