By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Dave Argyle (DBA Photography)
OGDEN – The Utah state 5A boys basketball tournament returned to the Dee Events Center at Weber State University this year. With a four-time defending champion in the field, it’s Lone Peak with the target on its back and everyone else looking for a shot to take down the king of the hill.
There wasn’t a whole lot of drama on Day 1 Monday, but there were some interesting developments as the tourney moves forward toward some potentially great second-round battles Wednesday afternoon and evening.
Here are a few of the top stories from Monday’s action:
1) Lone Peak is back – After losing its final two region games heading into the state tournament, Lone Peak had opened the door to a few doubters. After the 99-74 victory over Copper Hills to open the state championships, it looks like state tournament magic is still there for the Knights.
Frank Jackson and Nick Curtis came out of the gates on fire, leading an 80 percent 3-point shooting party in the first half (63 percent overall shooting) as Lone Peak dropped 50 on the Grizzlies before the break. That shooting took the legs out from under a talented Copper Hills team that actually had a strong offensive night of its own.
Jackson (32 points), Nick Curtis (27) and Christian Popoola (21) combined for a huge night and sent a message that the Knights are still here, in case anyone was wondering.
2) Stars shine – State tournaments are when stars are made, and Day 1 of this year’s 5A tourney started out with a bang for some of the names already associated with star power.
Jackson’s 32 point, six assist performance was one of the headliners, but there were others from some of the more prominent names.
Brighton had a surprisingly large margin of victory over American Fork because a lot of people played well, with Brock Miller’s 24 points playing a huge role for the Bengals. Davis was expected to handle Granger, but anyone who has not seen Jesse Wade play got another treat with his combination of deep shooting and drives to the rim. The Gonzaga-bound senior hit on 11-of-17 shots, including five 3-pointers, while scoring 32 for the Darts and also pulling down six rebounds.
The most impressive come-from-behind win of the day came courtesy of Hunter and it’s star Noah Togiai. The senior scored 22, with seven boards and five assists as the Wolverines overcame a 12-point deficit late to beat Weber 53-46.
The day began with Riley Court of Pleasant Grove putting his entire array of skills on display against a very good Alta team. Court scored 27 and pulled down 13 rebounds as the Vikings advanced with a 66-44 win.
3) Survive and advance – It’s a little cliche to use the phrase “survive and advance” in relation to tournament play, but sometimes there really is no other way to describe the situation.
It’s not that Bingham, one of the early favorites to have a shot at dethroning Lone Peak, was expected to blow Riverton out of the gym. The Silverwolves, in fact, are a very talented team that entered the tournament as a No. 4 seed only because they played in a stacked Region 4.
Riverton came into the tournament fresh off an overtime upset win over Lone Peak that came six days after it beat Pleasant Grove.
The problem for Bingham is that it played so well early in the game and built up a large lead against its rival, only to see the advantage nearly slip away. In the end, it was four double-digit scorers, all not named Yoeli Childs, who stepped up and delivered as the Miners survived an early tournament scare to take a 65-58 win.
Childs went down in the third quarter with a sprained ankle, so that is also something to watch going forward, but the combination of Kyle Gearig (14 points), Michael Green (13), Jared Holman (12) and Josh Newbold (10) more than compensated as the Miners settled down to close out the win.
There were moments late in Layton’s 61-54 win over Hillcrest when it looked like the rarest of feats in recent years, a Region 2 win at the state tournament, would happen not once, but twice on Day 1 of the 5A tourney. The Huskies led by four with just three minutes to go before a sequence of turnovers and missed shots opened the door for the Lancers, and they raced through it.
Layton’s headliner, Jarriesse Blackmon, had a signature put-back dunk during the comeback, and he had a really nice game with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but it was the other Blackmon, Julian, who carried the day. Julian Blackmon finished with 19 points, seven rebounds, six assists and four steals.
4) Surprising blowouts – When the 5A tournament bracket first posted, it was expected that even the first round would yield some enticing and exciting matchups. When the dust settled Monday night, perhaps the biggest surprise was the games in which that did not happen.
Pleasant Grove is either even better than we thought or Alta picked a really bad time to have its worst game in a while. A Pleasant Grove win over the Hawks was not completely out of the ether, but the 66-43 margin of victory was not at all the way anyone expected this tournament to begin.
Another game about which the same thing can be said is the Brighton win over American Fork. The Cavemen struggled all day long with their ability to hit shots, including 2-of-17 from 3-point range, and that allowed the Bengals to essentially run American Fork out of the gym. The final score was 60-44, but the game actually never felt even that close.
Even the margin of victory by which Lone Peak beat Copper Hills was somewhat surprising, not because the Knights are not capable of putting that kind of beating on someone, but because Copper Hills entered the tournament on the upswing and looked like a team that would be more competitive in that first-rounder. Offensively, it was, but the Grizzlies couldn’t find answers at the other end.
The other blowouts, Davis over Granger and Viewmont over Taylorsville were a little forseeable.
5) Hunter’s comeback – It has been a while since a Region 2 team, even that league’s champion, has won a game at the state tournament. So, while it seemed that Region 2 title-winning Hunter was the kind of team to take care of business against Region 1 No. 4 Weber, it was not all the surprising that history seemed to be holding form.
The contest was into the fourth quarter, and the Warriors were up 13. It did not look good for the Wolverines, but then that history took a back seat. Hunter outscored Weber 22-5 down the stretch and closed out the Warriors 53-46.
Noah Togiai had a rough day shooting the ball from the floor, but he was money from the charity stripe (10-for-11) and finished with 22 points. His biggest impact came with big plays late. After the Wolverines missed a free throw while leading by just two points with 13 seconds to go, Togiai stole the ball in the back court and then hit a pair from the line to ice the game away.