SPANISH FORK — The Tooele boys basketball team went on the road and earned one of the final spots in the 4A boys basketball state tournament with a 44-35 win over Spanish Fork on Saturday.
Aside from having to play on a hostile floor, the Buffaloes were matched against an opponent that had handily beaten them earlier in the season. Spanish Fork recorded an 18-point win over Tooele back in early December and, from the outside, appeared to be the favorites to win again.
Instead, the rematch went the other way, with the Buffaloes pulling in front in the third quarter and never looking back.
"Early in the season we didn't have a clue," said Tooele coach Ray Brazier. "In our region play we established an identity. That was the difference. We knew we were a much better team than we had played at the beginning. We felt confident coming in."
Jacob Holt scored a game-high 18 points for Tooele, including several key free throws in the fourth quarter that helped seal the win, while no player for the Dons managed to reach double figures.
Tooele's game plan was to keep Spanish Fork from attacking the basket and force more outside shots. The Dons never found an effective counterattack and put up its second-lowest point total of the season while hitting on 3 of 20 3-point attempts.
"You can't let their athletes get into the paint," said Brazier. "Spanish Fork moves very quickly with the ball. I thought our kids did pretty well at keeping them out of the paint as much as possible."
The score was tied at 9-9 at the end of the first quarter, and the Dons held a slim 18-17 lead at halftime, but Tooele stepped ahead after the break, holding Spanish Fork to just five third quarter points and taking a 26-23 lead.
An early fourth quarter basket by the Dons made the score 26-25 but that was as close as Spanish Fork would get the rest of the way. An 8-1 run over the next four minutes pushed the Buffaloes lead to 34-26.
A 3-pointer by Hayden Nielsen cut the Dons' deficit to 34-29 with just under 4 minutes remaining, but Tooele won the game with free throws in the closing minutes. The Buffaloes hit nine of their last 12 from the line.
Spanish Fork had several empty possessions during that stretch, and was also called for two late technical fouls as the game slipped away.
Chase Loftin led the Dons with nine points and Adam Duke added seven.
Wade Memmot and Spencer Bunn had nine and eight points, respectively, for Tooele.
The Buffaloes have a quick turnaround, as it will meet Region 5 champion Mountain Crest in Tuesday's second-round game.
"On Monday we start up again," said Brazier. "They are one of the most formidable opponents in the whole state."