DRAPER — Both the Corner Canyon and American Fork boys basketball teams came into Friday’s matchup at the Tournament of Champions with losing records. Still, their game felt like a championship battle on the court.
In the end, Jared Shepherd scored 27 points, including eight straight free throws in the final minutes, to lift the Cavemen to a 67-65 victory.
“It was really intense,” said American Fork coach Ryan Cuff. “We play these games to find out where we’re at and where we need to improve … and we had the right guy at the (free-throw) line at the end.”
With the victory, American Fork improved to 2-2 and continued its series of battles against the best teams Cuff can find as it tries to reclaim the state championship win it earned in 2022.
The Cavemen edged Corner Canyon in a 43-39 nail-biter that year, but the Chargers reversed that outcome last season and, of course, the two schools engaged in the title contest in football just a few short weeks ago.
“It’s a great rivalry,” Cuff said. “When we were in the same region, we’d sometimes play three or four times in a season, and it’s always heated. That’s the way we both play the game.”
American Fork trailed early in this contest, but a turning point came early in the second quarter when senior forward Reece Dent was undercut and suffered a wrist injury while attempting a dunk.
That resulted in a 10-minute delay while both players received medical attention. After that, Cuff noted the Cavemen played with a different attitude and blew to a 13-points halftime lead.
Corner Canyon, the host of the three-day tournament this weekend that features some of Utah’s best schools, rallied behind the shooting of Isaac Neibaur and the athletic play of 6-foot-10 Derrell Desire.
The Chargers never retook the lead, but got as close as 48-45 early in the fourth quarter. However, Emmitt Red and Xander Hale scored key baskets off offensive rebounds to keep the game out of reach.
Hale’s basket, with 1:43 left, made the score 60-52 and came immediately after Desire fouled out. Both teams had to deal with foul problems, but the Chargers got the worst of it.
There were nearly 50 infractions called during the game and Corner Canyon had two players disqualified in the final period.
The Chargers fell to 1-3 with the loss, and will continue their own brutal schedule with a game against Lehi Saturday, and have a road swing next week against out-of-state opponents.