ST. GEORGE – The Desert Hills Thunder came from behind to beat the Snow Canyon Warriors 58-54 on Friday night at Desert Hills High School. The Thunder beat the Warriors in come-from-behind fashion just a few weeks ago and they did it again last night.
The game was full of unexpected happenings. From the Warriors’ three top scorers, who combined only had four points at the half, to the Warriors (who are the best free throw shooting in Region 9) only shooting 56.2% from the free-throw line and the Thunder having 18 turnovers and trailing at the half on their home court. The most unexpected happening was when a Snow Canyon employee ran across the Desert Hills court with a Snow Canyon flag. School police escorted the employee out of the game.
Ben Smith came out on fire for the Warriors, scoring nine of the teams 11 first-quarter points. The Warriors led 11-10 after the first quarter. Thunder leading scorers Brandon Simister and Tyler Ott each had four in the first quarter.
The first four minutes of the second quarter saw the Thunder and Warriors going back and fourth with neither team leading by more then two points. With the game tied at 16 Warrior coach James Brown had seen enough. Coach Brown was given a technical foul for having some words with the official after a layup attempt was missed by Smith and coach Brown thought there should have been a foul called. Ott stepped to the line and knocked down both free throws to put the Thunder up 18-16 with only three minutes to play in the first half and the Thunder had the ball.
The Technical sparked the Warriors who went on a 9-2 run led by junior Gabe Jensen who scored seven straight points in the run including a 4-point play after Jensen made a 3-point basket and was fouled.
The Warriors took a 25-20 lead into the break. The Warriors leading scorer, Brayden Linde, who averages just under 15 points per game was held to two first-half points as was Ben Gottfredson who averages over 10 points per game. Chandler Gines was held scoreless in the first half due to foul trouble. Gines only played three minutes in the first two quarters and was 10 points under his season average.
The Thunder could not get going from the outside, only making two first-half 3-point field goals. The Thunder were trailing at the half at home for the first time all season.
The second half started with the Thunder getting the ball to Division 1-bound Ott. Ott knew the Warriors were in foul trouble and started taking the ball to the basket and shot started to fall for Ott. Ott scored more points in the third quarter (7) than he did in the first half where he was held to six points.
Ott wasn’t the only Thunder player getting into the action in the third quarter, Ty Rutledge scored five in the quarter and Simister added a 3-point field goal. Ott, Simister and Rutledge were the only Thunder players to score in the quarter where the Thunder cut the Warrior five point halftime lead to three going into the fourth and final quarter.
To open the final quarter Rutledge continued his great play with a 3-pointer to tie the game. Simister also continued to stay hot by hitting another outside shot, which opened up the driving lanes.
With the Warriors overplaying the Thunder shooters, the Thunder players started getting to the basket where they either had layups or got fouled. The Thunder used the run to get the biggest lead of the game, seven points on a breakaway dunk by Ott.
With the Thunder Dome going crazy, the Warriors called a timeout to settle the team down.
The Warriors did not quit led by Smith who scored five in the final quarter and got the Thunder lead back to four. With Smith staying on a roll Linde and Gines started to pick up the slack, and when Linde hit a 3-pointer from the wing in front of the Warrior bench the and cut the deficit to one.
With the Warriors rolling, the Thunder continued to attack and, with just over two minutes to play, the Thunder fouled out Gottfredson when he fouled Thunder center Mike Needham.
Needham only made 1-2 free throws but the Warriors were not able to score; and on the next Thunder position Rutledge was fouled again. Rutledge made both free throws pushing the lead back to four.
Gines tried to answer on the other end but only made 1-2 free throws cutting the deficit to three. The Warriors had to press and when the Thunder went to inbound the ball the ball bounced in-between Simisters legs and went out of bounds.
The turnover gave the Warriors the ball down three with under a minute to play. Coach Brown had a great play set up to get Linde the ball in the corner for an open-3 to tie. The Austin Benson pass was deflected back to him and the senior took the open-3, the three was missed off the back iron and rebounded by the Thunder’s Needham.
Needham went 1-2 again from the line pushing the lead back to four. The Warriors raced down the floor, a Linde three went off the back of the rim but Gines came down with the rebound, took two dribbles back to the 3-point line, turned around and threw up and off-balanced three that went in!
The Thunder lead was back down to one, but the Thunder have excellent free-throw shooters so the Warriors tried to force a turnover and if they could not get the turnover they were told to foul.
The Thunder got the ball across half court and the Warriors had to foul the region’s best free-throw shooter Simister. Simister made both free throws pushing the lead back to three.
The Warriors used a timeout to draw up a play but the Linde-3 was off the mark and the Thunder got the ball back.
The Thunder guards Rutledge, Simister, and Jaden Beckstrand went 10-11 from the free-throw line in the final minutes, while the Warriors went 5-9 from the line in the final quarter.
Simister scored a team high 16 points including three 3-point field goals, Ott added 15 points, and Rutledge finished with 13 points all in the second half.
Smith scored a career high 20 points but was the only Warrior in double figures. Jensen added nine points including two 3-pointers. Gottfredson finished with eight points, while Linde and Gines finished with six points.
The Warriors’ heartbreaking loss was the second of its kind to the Thunder. The Warriors led by nine towards the end of the third quarter in the first loss to the Thunder, and led going into the fourth quarter once again on Friday night.
The loss puts the Warriors in a very difficult position trying to make the playoffs. The Warriors are now two games back of the Dixie Flyers for the fourth and final playoff spot and need to win and to have a chance to get in. The Warriors host the Flyers on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. The Warriors are now 4-5 in region play.
The Thunder continue to roll and show why they’re No. 1 in the state. The Thunder may not win by large margins but win they do. The Thunder are now 8-2 and in solo first place.
The Thunder host Hurricane on Wednesday night on what will be a very emotional senior night. The game will be a battle for first place. The winner of the game will have a full game lead with only one more game for the Thunder and two for Hurricane.
The battle for first can be heard on Fox News 96.7fm 1450am on Wednesday at 7 p.m.
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Copyright 2012 St. George News.