ST. GEORGE – Hurricane visited the Thunderdome and made Desert Hills earn its final victory going into the playoffs.
Taking an early double-digit lead, the Tigers saw the Thunder take their own double-digit lead in the second half. But Hurricane scrapped its way back and had a chance to tie the game late. Max Mills’ free throw with eight seconds left gave Desert Hills a four-point margin and put the game out of reach.
“(Hurricane) played very well tonight,” said Desert Hills Coach Wade Turley. “We started our seniors tonight. We did not expect them to hit their first five 3-pointers. They jumped on us early.”
The win gives Desert Hills the No. 2 seed in Region 9 heading into the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker over Dixie (both teams finished 9-3 in region). That means the Thunder will play a home game next Friday against Juab in the first round of the playoffs (time yet to be determined).
En route to an 18-9 first-quarter advantage, James Bennion and Jayden Long hit five treys. For Desert Hills, big men Austin Adams and Quincy Mathews scored all nine of the Thunder’s points. Mills, who drew the assignment of guarding Bennion, said, “We know he has talent. He hit a few in the beginning, but we were able to shut him down after that.”
In the second, the Thunder maintained pace and began to chip away at the Hurricane lead. Mathews and Tanner Leishman used their size advantage to out-rebound HHS and get several second chance put-backs.
“We were outrebounded by 15 or 16,” said Hurricane coach Todd Langston. “We were blocking out a front line all taller than 6-foot-6, with three (of our) guys all 6-2 and shorter.”
Leishman also was the beneficiary of a Logan Forsyth steal and assist for a break-away slam dunk. The Thunder pulled to within two points, 25-23, on Marcus McKone’s two free throws with just over one minute remaining in the half. A Kaden Langston pull-up jumper and a free throw by Creston Beatridge closed out the first-half scoring with the Tigers up 28-23.
The Thunder reciprocated Hurricane’s first quarter success by doubling up the Tigers in the third quarter, 20-10. Again it was Mathews doing the most damage, scoring eight, including two three-point plays. For Hurricane, their post players tried to keep pace. Austin Beatty and Reagan Hinton scored two baskets each. But after the first quarter, the Tigers were cold from the outside until late in the game.
“Our shots were there,” said Coach Langston. “They were just not falling.”
At the end of three the Thunder had a lead they would not relinquish, 43-38.
The Thunder defense began switching on all screens, sometimes putting post players on the Tiger backcourt.
“Our bigs are extremely agile,” said Mills. “But even if we get beat, our help-side defense is always there to help out.”
The lead for the Thunder quickly climbed to double-digits in the fourth quarter. The quarter began with another Mathews three-point play. His two free throws with four minutes to go put the Thunder up 50-40.
“We have had a size advantage on most of the teams we played,” said Mathews. “It has been an emphasis all year to pound it inside and either get the bucket, create contact, or both.”
Kaden Langston hit a deep 3 to cut the Thunder lead to seven. But McKone matched it with his own trey with 2:49 remaining. Tyson Yardley came back for the Tigers and hit a 3-pointer to pull the game back to within seven 53-46 with 2:25 to play. After an empty possession by the Thunder, Yardley fouled Mathews going for a jump ball on a rebound. Mathews did not stop at the whistle and subsequently threw Yardley to the floor. He was assessed with a technical foul.
Mathews missed both free throws in the double bonus. Bennion connected on both technical foul free throws. And on the ensuing possession, Kaden Langston drove the lane for another pull-up jumper to pull the Tigers to within three points 53-50 with 51 seconds remaining.
The Tigers were forced to foul and decided to put Mills at the stripe. His first free throw rolled around the entire rim, then hung for a slight second before falling out, leading to a collective groan from the crowd. The senior guard then collected the ball for his second shot and hit nothing but net.
“When the first one left my hand it felt good,” said Mills. “So I was surprised when it came out. It put a little more pressure on the second one. That one felt good, too.”
The lead was 54-50. The shot by Hurricane at the buzzer fell short, but would have been for naught considering the four-point advantage.
Hurricane was led by Bennion with 13. Long and Langston both added nine points. Mathews led all scorers with 21 and added 11 rebounds for a double-double. Adams and McKone added eight points each.
Hurricane’s season is complete. The Tigers finish with an overall record of 6-16 and 3-9 in Region 9. The Thunder improve to 16-6 and 9-3 in region play.
The Thunder’s opponent next Friday, Juab, is 12-8 overall and finished 4-4 in Region 12. The Wasps have played two Region 9 foes, losing by identical 10 points to both Canyon View and Hurricane.
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