The Grand County boys basketball team stayed neck-and-neck with Emery for more than two quarters in their season finale. But the Spartans pulled away from the Red Devils in the second half to earn an 86-69 victory on Tuesday, Feb. 17 and secure a share of the Region 15 title with South Sevier and a No. 1 seed in the 2A playoffs.
The young and inexperienced Red Devils, under first-year head coach Scott Horton, finished with a 1-18 record, including a 0-8 mark in region play, but gave the Spartans all they could handle in their trip to the Devils’ Den to finish the regular season. Emery had previously beaten Grand 84-28 when the two teams met in Castle Dale on Jan. 28.
“We had some confidence after beating Pinnacle (58-36 on Feb. 11),” Horton said. “We found out what it felt like to win.”
On Feb. 17, the Red Devils showed heart and toughness in front of a fired-up home crowd, finding themselves down 39-36 at halftime, eclipsing their point total from the previous meeting in only two quarters. Emery extended its lead to 65-56 by the end of the third quarter and added to its advantage in the fourth quarter.
“The way the gym was against Emery is the way it should be every time we get on the court,” Horton said. “It gives the kids a lot of energy to play in front of that kind of crowd.”
The Red Devils outshot the Spartans from the field 46 percent to 37 percent, and made one more three-pointer than Emery (10-of-22 for the Red Devils, 9-of-20 for the Spartans), but the Spartans made 28-of-38 shots from the free-throw line, while Grand made only 7-of-12.
Sophomore Christian Wilson was the Red Devils’ star in their finale, making eight of his 11 shots, including four of his five three-point shots, while also going 4-of-5 from the line, to finish with 24 points. He also had four rebounds and a team-leading five assists.
“We knew it would be a little different because we didn’t have Christian (in Castle Dale),” Horton said. “He came out on fire.”
Junior Brayden Ward scored 16 points and senior Jasen Christensen scored 15 points and secured a team-leading nine rebounds.
Five players scored in double digits for the Spartans, led by Tai Justice’s 18 points. Ridge Nielson, Tyson Roper and Kevin Butler each scored 15 points, while Dillon Wilstead added 12.
The Red Devils were overwhelmingly a group of freshman and sophomores this season, having only two seniors and four juniors on the roster. They figure to be much more competitive next season with as the underclassmen and the first-year coach have both gained valuable experience.
The head-coaching position has been a revolving door the past few years for the Grand boys basketball team, but Horton said that he has no intention of leaving the team anytime soon. He said he and his coaching staff are committed to returning Grand boys basketball to a competitive state.
“We’re going to play a lot of basketball this spring and summer,” Horton said. “The guys not playing any other sports, we’re gonna play a lot of tournaments. Putting a system in place is going to take a year or two to get all figured out, get it all dialed in.”
One thing that Horton has praised all year about Grand boys basketball is its heart. Horton said adding experience and off-season work to the mix will lead to an improved team. He said he believes his players are willing to put in the extra work.
“When you lose by 30-40 points all the time, you realize you can’t just pick up a ball only once a year,” he said. “It’s a mindset. You’ve got to want to get better. You’ve got to want to win.”
Horton said he believes the Red Devils have that mindset.
“We believe in what the boys can do. We believe in our system,” Horton said. “It’s only going to go up from here.”
Red Devils fall short in valiant effort against region champs
The way the gym was against Emery is the way it should be every time we get on the court. It gives the kids a lot of energy to play in front of that kind of crowd.