BRIGHAM CITY — On an emotion-charged "Senior Night," the Box Elder Bees were determined to send their huge crowd home happy from their final home game of the season.
So senior Jarom Mecham scored a game-high 22 points, sophomore Max Watson added 21 and senior Joe Sever had 11 more, and Box Elder calmly converted 10 of 10 free throws in the final 1:22 to turn back two-time defending 4A state champion Bountiful 72-61 in a Region 5 boys basketball battle Tuesday night.
"That was awesome; I couldn't be happier," said Mecham, who hit three of the Bees' four 3-pointers on the night. "We were feeding off the energy of the crowd and playing together as brothers on the team. We have the best (home-court) atmosphere in the state by far — definitely.
"There was a lot of emotion going into the game tonight, that's for sure, from players and fans in the stands, and it was contagious.
"I grew up in this gym — it's like a second home of mine — and it was really just a big-time region game that was really important, and there was a lot of emotion just going into that," he said. "So we were focused on winning the ballgame first."
The Bees, who'd been beaten by the Braves in their first league meeting earlier this season, improved to 14-7 overall and 6-4 in Region 5 with their fourth straight win.
Seniors Darius McFarland and Carl Nielsen chipped in with nine points and six points, respectively, for Box Elder, and they each hit a pair of free throws in the Bees' closing 10-0 run along with four from Mecham and two more from Watson.
"That's how you win ballgames, by hitting free throws down the stretch," Mecham said. "That was a real positive for us, the way we shot 'em down the stretch."
Bountiful, which slipped to 10-11 and 5-5, got 20 points from its splendid sophomore, Brig Willard, and 18 from senior Austin Parkinson. Jon Schmidt scored seven and Landon Trusty added six for the Braves, who repeatedly battled back from 8-, 9- and 10-point deficits.
"You've got to make free throws in a close game, especially after we gave it back to 'em," said Box Elder coach Jace McKee, whose team saw its seemingly safe nine-point cushion slashed to one, 62-61, with a minute and a half remaining before finishing the game with a 10-0 run — all of those points coming from the foul line.
"It was a little scary. But we settled in, got the ball down the court, hit our free throws and then got a couple stops and hit our free throws. ... We haven't always finished like that — there's times we have and times we haven't — and tonight we did. Our guys just stepped up and hit their foul shots (18 of 20 for the game). That's probably our best of the season; that's pretty good.
"I thought we defended better with more energy than we did at Bountiful, and we did a better job of trying to keep them from penetrating," he said. "And I thought we responded better — at their place, we were up seven in the third quarter and struggled to finish the game. We didn't take advantage of our opportunities. And tonight I thought we did; we made our free throws and we made buckets when we needed to, and were able to hold on to our lead."
The two teams played on even terms throughout the first quarter, with the biggest lead being the Braves' 16-12 advantage before the Bees cut it to 16-15 at the first stop.
Box Elder opened the second period with seven straight points to open up a 22-16 lead, but Trusty fueled an 8-2 Bountiful run that left the game tied at 24. Then Watson went coast-to-coast through traffic for a layup, and Mecham buried a long 3 just before the halftime buzzer to give the Bees a 29-24 lead at intermission.
"I'm just looking to make the right play," said Watson, who had several such slick, slashing drives from one end of the court to the other during the game. "Sometimes I look to take it to the basket and sometimes I look for the open guy.
"I think the key was sharing the ball and just getting the best shot, working as a team collectively and locking down on defense. That was a really big key for us, too."
Watson scored six straight points to give Box Elder a nine-point lead, 39-30, midway through the third quarter. But back came the Braves with seven straight points of their own, trimming the Bees' lead to 39-37.
Then it was Box Elder's turn, as Mecham hit a 3 and Sever scored five quick points to help the Bees move ahead by eight, 47-39, entering the final period.
Box Elder again moved ahead by nine, 55-46, only to see Schmidt score four points to make it a 55-50 game midway through the fourth. Two buckets by Sever and three free throws by McFarland made it a nine-point game, 62-53, with 2:27 to go, but Schmidt hit a corner 3 and Parkinson scored five quick points to pull the Braves back within one, 62-61. with 1:31 remaining.
Then came the Bees' late free-throw parade, which turned out to be a perfect 10.
"That's a good, athletic team," Coach McKee said of the Braves. "They've got some good size and some pretty good guards, so they're tough and they're playing better."