ST. GEORGE — If Jordan Hokanson keeps shooting like he did Friday night, there’s no telling how far this Desert Hills team will go.
Hokanson had 22 points and teammate Quincy Mathews had 21 as the Thunder marched into the Jungle and emerged with an impressive 70-56 victory over the Region 9-champion Warriors in the season’s final regular season game.
“We’re on a wave right now,” Hokanson said. “We’re playing consecutive good games, so we’re just going to ride this wave all the way to the end.”
It is the fourth straight win for the Thunder, who were really just fighting for a playoff spot at 4-4 in region two and a half weeks ago. In fact, halfway through region play Desert Hills was 3-3 and staring at road games against Cedar, Pine View and Snow Canyon in the future. DH went 5-1 in the second go-round, with the only loss coming at Cedar in overtime in a game the Thunder led almost the entire game.
So what changed. Well, several things. But having Hokanson emerge as more of a scoring threat has been a huge part of the improved play.
“It’s taken a while to get into it, to just get my shot going,” Hokanson said. “But I feel great now. It’s dropping finally.”
Thunder coach Wade Turley, who has counted on Mathews all year to carry the scoring load, said he knew the team would need a couple more scoring threats to really have a chance to go places this season.
“For whatever reason, we just started off really slow this season,” he said. “We had a hard time making buckets, making free throws, making layups. It’s just taken longer than I anticipated to kind of get going. But you can see we’re playing well together. We realize that we need Jordan to be a scorer for us because that’s something he’s very talented at. That’s just taken him a little while. This is the kind of player he’s capable of being and it’s a big reason why we’re on this roll right now.”
Hokanson nearly single-handedly turned the game in DH’s favor early on. He scored seven of the Thunder’s first 11 points, including a high-arching trey 85 seconds into the game, helping Desert Hills open the contest on an 11-5 run. Snow Canyon got hot midway through the first quarter, turning that six-point deficit into a 15-11 lead with a 10-0 run. All 10 points came inside the key, with Warner Rigby, Brock Staheli, Jacob Frei (twice) and Hayden Anderson all scoring inside buckets.
With the huge Snow Canyon crowd working itself into a frenzy, Turley called a time out with 50 seconds left in the first quarter and gathered his team together. The strategy worked, at least momentarily, as Hokanson nailed his second 3-pointer with 25 seconds left in the first to make it a 15-14 game.
SC was able to start the second quarter with a 6-1 run, making it 21-15, and the noisy fans started rockin’ the house once again. Instead of a time out, Turley turned to Mathews and called three straight plays for his junior playmaker. Mathews responded with a three-point play in the lane, then back to back 15-foot jumpers to give Desert Hills a 22-21 lead with 3:29 left in the first half.
And as it turns out, those three scores were just kindling for a huge fire that was about to erupt for the Thunder. Over the final 5:21 of the second quarter, including Mathews seven-point burst, DH would outscore Snow Canyon 22-4 and open up a 37-25 halftime lead. The Thunder shot well during the stretch, but also dominated the glass, often getting second and third chances after missing shots.
“We focus a lot on rebounding,” Mathews said. “We know that if we get most of the rebounds, we’re going to control the game. That’s one of our main focuses We get the boards and we get the game, most of the time.”
Desert Hills won the battle of the boards 34-18, with Trey tanner grabbing 10 and Taylor Houston snagging 8.
The third quarter was the last hope for SC, hoping to start with a quick run and cut the deficit into single-digits. But a couple of missed shots and a couple of turnovers led to another Desert hills run and turned the game into an old-fashioned tail-whupping. Hokanson hit two more baskets and Mathews hit a trey as part of a 10-3 run and in less than four minutes, it was 47-28 and the Thunder were well on their way to their fourth straight win.
Snow Canyon never got closer than 12 the rest of the game. Besides being dominated on the boards, the Warriors had a rough night shooting the ball, making just 19 of 52 shots (36 percent). In contrast, the Thunder were 22 of 44 (50 percent) and made 5 of 9 3-pointers. Hokanson and Mathews combined to go 12 of 14 from the field, 4 of 6 from deep. Hayden Anderson was the top scorer for the Warriors with 17 points and was the only Snow Canyon player to make more than half his shots.
SC still retained its spot as the region’s top seed and will host Ben Lomond next week in the first round of the state playoffs. The Warriors, 14-7, have the game tentatively scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday night. The Scots, 4-18, beat Stansbury Friday night to emerge as the four-seed from Region 11.
Desert Hills, 13-8, emerges as the three-seed from Region 9 and will travel to Bear River next Saturday to take on the Bears (12-10), who tied Grantsville for the Region 11 championship. Bear River has played one Region 9 opponent — Snow Canyon — which beat the Bears 68-67 in double overtime in a preseason tournament back in early December at Sky View High School in Hyrum.
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