A couple months from now when Crimson Cliffs is grinding through tight Region 9 and 4A playoff games, and perhaps even finding itself trailing by double-digits, coach Scott Murdock will be able to remind his players about the resiliency they showed Friday night at Skyridge High School.
Down by 14 to Copper Hills early in the second half, Crimson Cliffs started moving the ball more efficiently offensively and locking things down defensively as it rallied for the impressive 77-73 victory in the semifinals of the AllState Falcon Classic.
Luke Johnson tied the game with three free throws in the final 30 seconds for the Mustangs, who then got a stop defensively to send the game into overtime. In OT, they jumped out quick to win their second tight game at the Falcon Classic.
“It started on the defensive end. We got some steals and stops. I was really proud of those guys what they did in the second half,” Murdock said.
With the win, Crimson Cliffs advances to Saturday’s championship game at 3:15 p.m. and will face Dixie.
Johnson led Crimson Cliffs in the win Saturday by scoring 19 of his game-high 21 points after halftime, while 6-foot-11 senior center Sean Felts added 18 points.
Copper Hills jumped out quick, leading 21-13 after the first quarter and then 36-27 at the half. Its biggest lead was 41-27 early in the third quarter, but that’s when Crimson Cliffs ripped off a 12-0 run to cut the deficit to 41-39 with 2:18 left in the third.
It was a lead that Copper Hills never relinquished until Johnson’s three free throws with 26 seconds left in regulation.
Heading into overtime, Murdock stressed with his players the importance of pounding the ball inside to Felts.
“One hundred percent, I said we’re going inside, that’s where we’re gonna win the game, and I said defensively we’ve got to get stops, and they did a really good job of that,” said Murdock.
Felts put Crimson Cliffs ahead for good midway through overtime on a little baseline hook shot for the 71-69 lead.
Coming into the weekend, Murdock thought his team had played well early this season despite a 1-2 record, but with back-to-back wins over 6A schools Farmington and Copper Hills the confidence has ratcheted up a notch.
“These last few games we’ve kind of put things together, so it’s helped the boys’ confidence and their overall swag you would say on the court,” said Murdock.
On Saturday it will face region foe Dixie, the top-ranked team in 4A that improved to 4-0 this preseason with its 65-49 win over Herriman in the other semifinal Friday night.
Herriman actually led 31-30 at the half, but the Flyers dominated the second half for the comfortable victory.
“We got a lot of stops, but we really started our transition game, so obviously defense complemented our offense, we were able to push it in transition and then we got some easy buckets there in the second half,” said Dixie head coach Tyler Roberts.
“We were rushed in the first half, we didn’t really play our style of basketball, we didn’t play through Kyle (Lemke) very much and we just got back to doing Fly Fam basketball.”
Brecken Robinson led Dixie with 23 points, 15 of which came in the second half, while Logan Weidauer chipped in with 16 points and Lemke added 15.
Saturday’s championship game between Dixie and Crimson Cliffs will be a precursor to their Region 9 opener on Dec. 20.