ST. GEORGE – The Desert Hills Thunder will advance, but Juab gave them a battle Friday night with DH escaping with a 57-44 win at the Thunderdome in the first round of the 3A Playoffs.
The Thunder ran into a scrappy Juab team that matched their intensity on defense in the first quarter. The Wasps employed a box-and-one on Desert Hills leading scorer Quincy Mathews and flowed one or two additional players at him when he got the ball. The strategy worked as Juab took a surprising 9-2 lead to open up the first quarter.
“Quincy (Mathews) has seen a lot of those this year,” said Thunder head coach Wade Turley. “At the quarter, we told the boys to keep their heads and to trust their teammates when they got double-teamed.”
That adjustment, coupled with Juab’ s Bryson Downey picking up his second foul, helped the Thunder outscore Juab 25-8 over the last part of the first quarter to halftime taking a 27-17 lead.
“I’ll admit, their box-and-one frustrated me,” said Mathews. “We started kicking out to the perimeter and our other big guys also got some good looks tonight.”
Juab big men Downey and Nick Robins scored all nine of the Wasps points in the first quarter. Downey executed well with spins and fakes, scoring three low-post buckets quickly. Robins complemented his teammate with a 3-pointer from the top of the key. With 3:15 to play in the first, the Thunder were looking up at a 9-2 deficit. Mathews answered with a basket and two free throws at the end of the quarter to pull Desert Hills to within one 9-8.
The second quarter saw the Thunder offense come alive. The inside-out game got Desert Hills its first five points with a trey from Tanner Leishman and a 15-footer from Logan Hokanson. At the 6:00 mark of the second, the Thunder employed their full-court press. It paid immediate dividends when Max Mills deflected the ball to Mathews for an easy layup. The basket gave the Thunder a 15-12 lead with 5:20 remaining in the half.
“Our press gets us easy baskets,” said Mills. “The score can get away from the other team quickly when we employ it.”
The Wasps fell into some early foul trouble as Robins joined Downey on the bench, picking up his second foul early in the second quarter. The Thunder went on a 12-5 run with several players contributing.
Coming out of the locker room, Thunder center Austin Adams connected on three quick baskets. Mathews added a three-point play during an 11-4 run that saw the Thunder up 38-21 halfway through the third quarter. Coach Turley kept Adams in, even after picking up his third foul. Shortly afterwards, Mathews picked up his third foul and Adams followed with his fourth. Both men exited with just under three minutes in the third and holding a 38-25 lead.
Downey and Robins immediately scored in their absence. However DH reserve posts Leishman and Jayce Jones answered with put-back baskets of their own. A Wasp basket from Nolan Nielson closed the scoring for the third with Desert Hills up 42-31.
Mills started the fourth quarter with a strip and uncontested layup. The teams traded baskets for the next two minutes. The Wasps pulled to within 10 points on a 3-pointer by Dillon Douglas. The Thunder’s Marcus McKone answered with two consecutive treys of his own. A free throw from Leishman gave the Thunder its largest lead at 53-36 with just over four minutes to play.
The Thunder then went into a controlled stall, taking precious time off the clock. The Wasps did convert two turnovers into baskets, closing the lead to 53-41. But it took them two minutes to get them. Leishman was fouled with 1:24 to play and calmly hit both free throws to go back up by 14 at 55-41.
Leishman then fouled Robins on an attempted 3-pointer. The Wasps leading scorer missed all three attempts. Leishman was again fouled with one minute remaining. Again his two free throws found the bottom of the net for a 57-41 advantage.
Both teams emptied their benches. The Wasps reserves would get a basket and free throw to end the scoring 57-44.
Robins led the Wasps with 12 points. Dillon Douglas joined him in double-figures with 11. For the Thunder, Leishman led the team in scoring with 12. Mathews scored 11.
Juab finishes the year with a 12-9 record. Desert Hills improves to 17-6 and will play Juan Diego in a Thursday afternoon (12:50 p.m.) match-up in the state quarterfinals. The Soaring Eagles defeated Grantsville 67-47 Friday night.
“They have a talented guard in (Gabe) Colosimo,” said Turley. “They will be a good test for us.”
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