By Kurt Johnson
Photos by Kevin McInnis
SARATOGA SPRINGS – With all the good things the Westlake High boys basketball team has accomplished already this season, Tuesday was an important midseason test. It was a chance for the Thunder to measure themselves against the state’s top team, Lone Peak.
Making things more interesting, the game also brought an opportunity for Westlake to draw even in the loss column with the Knights, who are on top of Region 4. The Thunder kept things interesting all night long in an extremely entertaining back-and-forth contest, but in the end, there was just too much Frank Jackson in the second half as Lone Peak picked up a big 84-72 road win.
The victory puts the Knights two games clear of the field in perhaps the state’s most challenging league and allows Lone Peak to re-assert itself as a state title front-runner.
The first half featured a long-distance shooting clinic by the Knights, who connected on 10 3-pointers before intermission. That shortened the team’s route to its 46 first-half points as Lone Peak fended off a two-pronged Thunder attack of 6-foot-4 senior forward Asa McCord (12 points at the break) and 6-6 senior Maizen Fausett (11 first-half points) to take an eight-point advantage to the locker room.
While the approach changed after the break for Lone Peak, many of the results continued once the Knights withstood an initial barrage from the Thunder. A Trenton Fullmer steal, followed by a Fausett assist on a McCord dunk capped a 9-3 start to the third period that pulled Westlake within two points, but then there was Jackson.
The future Duke Blue Devil slowed the charge with a lay-up plus free-throw and then answered McCord’s strong third quarter with some magic of his own. McCord dropped 14 points in the third on a number of strong takes, with a pair of traditional three-point plays in the mix.
Jackson was the aggressor at the other end, and in doing so, he drew a lot of contact. He scored three field goals and went 5-for-5 from the charity stripe in that stanza to allow his Knights to actually increase their advantage to 69-57 despite McCord’s heroics.
Things got a bit testy late in the third, perhaps as a direct result of a pair of back-to-back strong picks set by Westlake’s Dallin Stoddard. The physicality reached its high point with just over a minute left in the third, when a double technical got everyone’s attention.
Then, as it has been known to do, Lone Peak turned up the defense to close out the win. The Thunder managed just three field goals in the fourth period, and while the Knights tallied just four points from the floor, their lead was too much to overcome, particularly with Jackson (3-of-4) and sophomore guard Steven Ashworth (4-for-4) taking care of business at the free-throw line.
McCord delivered a major effort for the Thunder as Lone Peak struggled to find a defensive answer for Westlake in the paint, but when they needed a run, the Knights got one. As expected, Jackson was right in the middle of it all.
McCord finished the night with 31 points and 12 rebounds to lead Westlake (3-2 in Region 4, 13-2 overall) in both categories. Fausett scored 17 and added nine boards, while reserve guard Chaz Ah You pitched in with 12 points.
Jackson scored 28 points and pulled down seven boards for the Knights (6-0, 14-3), but there was lots of help as five Lone Peak players scored in double figures. Pollard finished the night with 16 points and seven rebounds, while Ashworth and junior forward Nate Harkness each scored 12 and Tyson Doman provided 10 off the Knights’ bench.
Next up for Westlake is a road game at Herriman (1-4, 8-6) Friday night as the Thunder look to establish themselves as strong contenders in the league playoff picture. Lone Peak hosts Riverton (0-5, 5-11) Friday night.