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High school boys basketball: Emery wins a thrilling 2A semifinal with fearless, aggressive play

RICHFIELD — Emery head coach Todd Jeffs can live with his team making mistakes.

He’ll embrace them as long as missteps come from trying too hard.

“I don’t fault our guys,” Jeffs said after Emery defeated South Summit 66-55 in a fast-paced thriller Friday night at the Sevier Valley Center. “They make mistakes, but most of the mistakes are aggressive mistakes.”

Both teams decided the best way to win was to try to outrun the other. It made for some impressive passing, some errant throws, desperation shots and a good number of fouls. Near the end of the third quarter, the Spartans had a seven-point lead and Jeffs tried to convince his team to slow the offense down, maybe make a few passes before trying to force up a shot.

It wasn’t very effective.

“We are what we are,” he said. “We’re just a little bit young and dumb and sometimes it shows more than others. We tend to play fast. We don’t just go out of control fast; we try to control it.”

He said sometimes his players are just taking what is given to them by opposing teams.

“A lot of the way the game went tonight was the way they played defense,” Jeffs said. “If we have people coming up and pressuring us at halfcourt, I want our guys going to the basket. And that was their game plan, that’s what they started with and that’s what they went with the whole way thorugh. Our guys want to attack that pressure and get into the paint. And I thought at times we made good decisions in the paint, and other times we made bone-headed decisions.”

The momentum seemed to shift ever so slightly late in the third quarter in the Spartans’ favor when Tyson Roper managed to get a few offensive rebounds and easy putbacks. His teammates also found him in the paint more than once for easy points in a frenetic game.

“In the third quarter, when we got a little bit of a cushion … like eight points or something, it was Roper’s man who was helping (defensively), and we were finding him,” Jeffs said. “And that was a good decision. How many times was he open and we didn’t find him and we forced a shot? We had some of that working, too. Luckily we had enough to get us a win.” The first-half was a battle between Emery’s Dillon Wilstead and South Summit’s Jason Griffin. While Wilstead worked his magic on the perimeter and driving to the basket, Griffin was a beast inside. Wilstead finished with 22 points, nine rebounds and four steals, while Griffin finished with 23 points, seven rebounds and three assists.

The game’s pace was so brutal that during many of the game’s fourth-quarter breaks, the best players stood listening to instruction with their hands on their hips, mouths open trying to desperately suck in oxygen.

Wilstead still looked tired after the postgame locker room chat.

“I gotta cold going,” he said, leaning his head on the concrete wall. “At halftime, I thought I was going to pass out.”

Jeffs said he gives the three-year starter a lot of leeway during games, and so far, it’s paid off.

“He’s a good player, and I trust him a lot,” Jeffs said. “Sometimes I trust him too much, and he makes me look like a fool. But that’s just him. He’s so aggressive and so tenacious, he doesn’t back down.”

The Spartans will play in the 2A championship Saturday at 7 p.m. They’ll face third-ranked Manti, after the Templars won their nail-biter against Enterprise in the night’s final game.

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