<strong>OGDEN—</strong> March Madness is officially here.
Sky View senior Jalen Moore tossed in an off-balance half-court shot at the buzzer and propelled the Bobcats past Bountiful Friday, 63-60, and into the 4A state championship game.
“We tried to run a play and it broke down, so I just came and got the ball and I just took two dribbles to the right, I love that shot,” Moore said. “I was just watching it, and once it left my hand I was like, ‘OK, that kind of feels good.’ I started running to the sideline and just kept watching, leaning, and then it went in and I just freaked out afterwards.”
Moore’s incredible shot was the capper for one of the best high school basketball games of the season. Sky View led the majority of the game, only to see that lead dwindle down the stretch. Bountiful junior Sam Merrill, who like Moore is a Utah State University commit, poured in a game-high 35 points and was an unstoppable force in the second half for the Braves.
“He’s a great player and we knew that he was going to make some shots,” SV senior Matt Dewey said. “We just had to try and contain him, which obviously didn’t work so well, but we contained the other players, and came out with the win.”
Bountiful erased a seven point Sky View lead in the fourth quarter, and built a four point lead, 58-54, with less than 30 seconds to go in overtime, after Merrill converted an old-fashioned three-point play.
On the ensuing Sky View possession, however, junior Braxton Godderidge was fouled on a 3-point attempt from the corner with 22.8 seconds left. Godderidge – who missed a pair of free throws in a regular season one-point loss to Logan that would have iced the game – calmly stepped up and knocked down all three attempts to pull the Bobcats back within one.
“Those were huge. In the Logan game when he missed those free throws, ever since then he’s been in the gym after practice shooting free throws. I think it comes down to that. He was focused and knocked them down,” Moore said.
Merrill was immediately fouled on the ensuing inbounds play, and converted his attempts as well, pushing the Bountiful lead back to three, 60-57, with 21.1 seconds remaining.
On the subsequent Bobcat possession, Sky View nearly lost the ball, but was able to get it to Moore in the corner. The senior rose up and knocked down his first 3-pointer of the game with 9.5 seconds remaining to tie the game at 60.
“We talked during the timeout here when we were down a little bit, and we just said, ‘Can you see it, can you envision yourselves winning this game?’ I think the kids believed and did the things that we needed to down the stretch,” SV head coach Kirk Hillyard said. “Every once in a while, the Basketball Gods things bounce your way and it just happened towards the end of the game and in overtime for us tonight.”
After Moore’s tying shot, the chance at a game-winner was supposed to go to Bountiful, but the Braves lost the handle and Sky View’s Bryan Dority dove on the ball and the Bobcats called a timeout with 2.9 seconds remaining. That turned out to be just enough time for Moore, who propelled the Bobcats to the state championship where they will meet valley-rival Mountain Crest for the third time this season. The SV win snapped a 20-game Bountiful winning streak.
The Mustangs shrugged off a big deficit and stormed back to beat 4A Cinderella and valley-rival Logan in the first semifinal game, which also came down to the wire.
“They played Logan three times, they get to play us three times. They came from behind against Logan, and that’s a great victory for them, so I think it’s going to be a great atmosphere tomorrow and I’m looking forward to the game,” Moore said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of people, and we’re just going to have to come out with a lot of intensity.”
Despite Friday’s magical finish, it looked like Sky View might run away with it early on. While the Braves relied on Merrill to carry the team, the Bobcats used a balanced attack to build leads of 12-3 and 24-15 in the first quarter.
Along with Moore – who finished with 18 points, nine rebounds, and six assists – Dewey recorded a personal tournament high with 18 points to go along with eight rebounds, while senior Ty Nielsen added 14 points before fouling out with three minutes remaining in the overtime period.
Behind the 3-point shooting of sophomore Zach Seljaas, Bountiful fought back in the second quarter with an 11-2 run. The game was tied at 29 before Moore hit a pair of free throws and Sky View took a 31-29 advantage into the break.
After the intermission, Sky View used a 10-2 run to open up a 43-34 advantage on a Mitch Larsen 3-pointer with 2:40 remaining in the third quarter. Once again, though, Bountiful would close the gap, pulling to within five, 43-38, heading into the fourth.
“We talk about it all the time, it’s a game of runs, and it’s whoever can go on a run at the right time,” Hillyard said. “We’ve been starting out really well down here, and then I don’t know if we’re tired or the other team just figures it out and then they make a run back. It’s just a game of runs and who can have a run at the right time. It went our way tonight.”
An 8-0 Bountiful run gave the Braves the lead with four minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, and the game would be back and forth from there. Dewey put Sky View back on top with a 3-pointer with 1:48 remaining in regulation, only to have Merrill answer with a three-point play.
A layup by Nielsen – his only points of the second half – tied it with 45 seconds left, and a runner by Merrill rimmed out with less than five seconds to play and the Bobcats called timeout with 2.2 seconds remaining in regulation.
Nielsen had a half-court heave of his own, similar to Moore’s, at the end of regulation. The shot was close as it bounced off the back iron, but the Bobcats saved the magic for the overtime period.
“Down the stretch it was just all heart. We knew this was our last game ever, and we had to go out there and do it some way,” Dewey said. “It was unbelievable how awesome that was … it means the world to us. I don’t know how we did it, but we did.”
The all Cache Valley state title game will tipoff at 4 p.m. from the Dee Events Center at Weber State University. The Mustangs defeated the Bobcats twice during the regular season with a blowout in Smithfield and a Tyler Crosbie layup at the buzzer in Hyrum.
“As I said after the Olympus game, this is what high school sports is about. It’s about the kids, it’s about these high-schoolers coming down here and being a part of this,” Hillyard said. “They’ll fill the buses tomorrow, we’ll come down here, and we’ll have a great, great time tomorrow.”