OGDEN — This season has been something of an aberration for Kanab boys basketball.
For years now, nine to be exact, the state tournament has been nothing more than a dream for the Cowboys.
In most years, come mid-February, most of Kanab’s best athletes are on the baseball diamond, toeing rubber and cracking leather, basketball the furthest thing from their minds.
Prior to this season, it had been seven years since the Cowboys had even qualified for a play-in game, nine since they’d played in the first round and 10 since they’d advanced to the quarterfinals and beyond.
This season’s Cowboys are different, however, and that was on display Thursday morning at Weber State University’s Dee Events Center.
Led by junior Sam Orton, who finished with a game-high 26 points, Kanab defeated North Summit 51-48 in the quarterfinals of the 2A state tournament.
Orton hit the game-winner, a desperation buzzer-beating 3-pointer that rebounded hard off the backboard before falling through the net.
“I could tell it was hard, so I yelled bank for him and it went in,” Kanab head coach Mickey Houston joked.
The shot and the win only served to reward the Cowboys for a year unlike any other.
“You have to understand that Kanab basketball, we have not been to the state tournament in nine years,” Houston said. “This year, these kids really committed. We’ve always had the athletes, but these kids, this team, wanted to learn basketball. They bought in at the first of the year and that is why we are here.
“All of this stuff (playing in the state tournament and buzzer-beaters) is just icing on the cake. We are having fun.”
For much of Thursday’s contest, fun was the furthest thing from the Cowboys minds.
The Braves, not known for their defense, were shot-blocking and deflection machines. Sophomore Quinton Jones recorded nine blocks himself for North Summit, while senior Parker Brown snagged eight steals.
It was a defensive effort unseen by the Braves this year that was largely responsible for North Summit limiting Kanab to 9 first quarter points, 10 in the second and 14 in the third.
Heading into the fourth quarter, the Braves led 36-33, a lead they would grow to 6 mere seconds into the final period.
As time ticked away in the contest, it was clear that momentum was squarely in the hands of a North Summit team accustomed to postseason basketball. With their magical season on the line, the Cowboys needed a restart, a boost of some sort.
It came in the form of a zone press scheme previously unseen from Kanab this season. The full-court press unnerved the Braves and led to four consecutive turnovers and four Cowboy buckets.
“It absolutely changed the game,” Houston said. “We’ve been working on it for about the last month, but we didn’t run it all season. We have been working on it, honing it, but we didn’t use it in the play-in game. We had a chance to but didn’t. This game provided us the opportunity to use it. We were behind at the time and had to change the momentum somehow. It is a new look and the kids performed it well. It worked out great.”
The press enabled the Cowboys to actually take the lead late, on a pair of free-throws by Tyler Clark. North Summit managed to tie the game at 48 points apiece with 6 seconds remaining, on the back of two clutch free-throws by Jones.Comment on this story
Coming out of a timeout, the Cowboys had their hearts set on running a specific play, the same one Utah utilized when it defeated UCLA in buzzer-beating fashion earlier this year.
The play didn’t work, however.
“We wanted to get the ball kicked back to Nathaniel (Houston), but they had a guy right there,” Houston said. “At that point, it was just basketball.”
Basketball, exactly what this Kanab team had worked hard all year long to perfect. It all paid off with Orton’s game-winner.
“Sam got it in his hands and let it go,” Mickey Houston said. “That shot was icing.”