ST. GEORGE — Things were better for the Desert Hills Thunder. Not great, but better at least.
Springville handed Desert Hills its third straight loss Saturday afternoon at Dixie’s Hangar Gymnasium, 54-50. But the Thunder played improved basketball after back to back disappointing performances and had a chance to win the game late against the 4A Red Devils. The loss puts the Thunder at 2-4 and gave them two defeats at the Ken Robinson Classic. But coach Wade Turley was much happier, despite the defeat.
“The kids played awfully well — well enough to win the game,” he said. “We didn’t execute very well at the end and I know the kids are frustrated with the loss, but we aren’t playing any cupcakes and we had an excellent chance to beat a quality 4A team.”
In fact, Desert Hills probably should have beaten Springville. Led by a renewed and motivated Quincy Mathews (16 points, 4 rebounds), the Thunder led most of the game. DH held a 39-32 lead through three quarters and was ahead 41-34 two minutes into the final period. But Springville got hot, reeling off 12 straight points to take a 46-41 lead with just a couple of minutes left.
Desert Hills fought back and got within 47-44 on a 3-pointer by Landen Broadhead. After a time out, Springville got a long trey by Zach Gordon that pushed the lead back six at 50-44. Undaunted, DH battled for a putback by Houston and, after a Brycen Williams steal, Mathews hit a shot to make it 50-48.
The Red Devils again lost the ball with under a minute to play as Jordan Hokanson and Williams teamed up to get the steal. Turley drew up a play for the tie and Williams drove and dished to Houston to make it 50-50 with just seconds remaining.
This time, it was Springville coach Chris Kitchen’s chance to scheme a play and he went to senior star Max Schreiner. The 6-foot-1 guard delivered, hitting a fadeaway 12-footer with Mathews in his face that settled through the hoop with three seconds remaining.
“I don’t know how you could have played any better defense than that,” Turley said. “He made him change the shot. And then it rolled on the rim for what seemed like three or four seconds. If he was going to make it, a swish would have been better for us. It would have given us a little more time.”
With the score 52-50 and left with just three seconds, Desert Hills tried a long pass that was stolen away by SHS’s Ben Johnson. He hit two free throws with a second left to ice the game.
Springville, while not a great 3-point shooting team, was money at the free throw line. Schreiner hit 7 of 8 and point guard Max Terry was 5 of 6. As a team, the Devils shot 84 percent (16 of 19).
Desert Hills, which has struggled lately at the line, was much better, hitting 9 of 13 (69 percent).
“We challenged the kids to improve at the free throw line,” Turley said. “We told them about how Brandon Simister afew years ago, after missing the game-winning free throws, came home and had his dad take him to the gym at 10:30 at night and shoot 100 free throws.”
Simister made 11 straight the next DH game, making a good object lesson for the team
The Thunder also cut down on turnovers after more than 20 against Spanish Fork on Friday.
“I was very interested to see how the guys would come out after that frustrating loss against Spanish Fork,” Turley said. “Even though we didn’t win, I thought we played a whole notch better. I’m happy about that. We just need to keep our heads up and keep improving and we’ll be right there in the end.”
Along with Mathews’ 16, Houstin also reached doubel-figures with 10 points. Broadhead, Hokanson and Trey Tanner all had six each. Tanner also added five blocked shots and five rebounds.
Schreiner led all scorers with 20 points and Terry added 11 for the Red Devils, who improve to 2-2.
The Thunder are back into region play Wednesday against Cedar. The game, played at DH’s Thunderdome, is the first of four next week as Desert Hills will compete in the Red Rock Rumble Thursday through Saturday at Dixie State’s Burns Arena.
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