WEST VALLEY CITY — Since the beginning of the year, when virtually every 5A coach tabbed Brighton as the team to beat, the Bengals were expected to go deep into the state tournament.

Now that they're marching along thanks to Wednesday's 60-54 quarterfinal victory over Fremont, it's easy to forget that these Bengals are infants when it comes to tournament play.

"Until you get into the tournament, it's tough to understand the pressure of being here," said first-year coach Lyndon Johnson.

Brighton didn't even qualify for the past two state tournaments, and three years ago it was bounced in the first round — hardly the experience you'd expect from the tournament favorite.

It almost cost the Bengals, too.

Leading by 11 early in the fourth quarter, the Bengals got a little turnover happy and made some poor decisions to let Fremont back in the game. With just over a minute remaining, the Silver Wolves cut the deficit to 52-49 on a layup by Austin Beus, who scored a game-high 18 points. After a forced shot by Brighton, Fremont had possession and a chance to tie the game with a 3-pointer.

"We had guys down the stretch make bad decisions," said Johnson, who somewhat blamed himself.

Knowing Fremont was down three with over a minute remaining, Johnson figured the Silver Wolves would attack the basket instead of launching a 3-pointer with so much time remaining. He didn't tell his players to foul, but he encouraged them to play overly aggressive defense.

"We knew if we did, we'd still be up one with the ball," he said.

As it turned out, they were up two with the ball. Brighton's aggressive defense sent Fremont to the line, but it made just 1 of 2 with 51 seconds remaining. The game turned into a foul-shooting contest after that, and all the pressure was on Derek Pearson.

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During the next 30 seconds, he went to the charity stripe twice and extended Brighton's lead to 56-52 by making all four of his attempts.

"Under a minute, up two, that's just character and courage," said Johnson about his 70 percent foul shooter.

In the final minute, Brighton made 8-of-10 foul shots to ensure itself a spot in Friday's semifinal against Hunter at 4:10 p.m.

Tyler Moss will be there, and perhaps even in the starting lineup. After suffering a badly sprained ankle in Monday's first-round win, Moss watched the opening tip-off from the bench but ended playing 18 minutes and finishing with three points and two assists.

"His ankle was hurting him real bad, but he found a way inside himself to play," said Johnson, who said Moss' lateral movement was about 20 percent.

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"I always thought I'd play," said Moss, who didn't practice Tuesday. "I had to, this is my last year."

Moss' only points of the game were three of the biggest. With Fremont leading 37-36 with 2:09 left in the third quarter, Moss buried a straight-away 3-pointer to put Brighton ahead 39-37. That basket keyed Brighton's 10-0 run late in the quarter that was ultimately the difference.

Conner Nielsen led Brighton with 13 points and seven rebounds, while Pearson added 13 points and six rebounds.

E-mail: jedward@desnews.com

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