OREM — Some stretches of this season were so challenging for the Highland basketball team, that it would have been understandable if they’d just settled for a mediocre season.
“We’ve had some trials this year,” said Highland head coach Jim Boyce after the Rams upset second-ranked Murray 72-59 in the first round of the 4A state tournament. “Ryan (Lambson) getting injured, we had a four-game losing streak at the Olympus tournament, a four-game losing streak during the region, but credit to the boys, they learned from it. We got more disciplined because of it.”
He’s quick to acknowledge that not every group of teenage athletes may have responded with such resiliency.
“Some teams, you can go either way when that happens,” Boyce said. “You can kind of pack it in or you learn from it. To the credit of these boys, we learned from it.”
Weathering the storms of the season contributed to the toughness the team needed to take down the talented Spartans. The two teams met earlier in the year — without Lambson — and Boyce pointed to two big differences that allowed Highland to lead from start to finish in Tuesday’s opening round of the 4A state tournament.
“The turnover thing and the rebounding,” he said. “The first time we played them, we turned the ball over quite a few times.” On Monday, they turned it over just eight times. They also out rebounded the Spartans 29-17. It didn’t hurt that they shot 65.7 percent from the field while holding Murray to 42.7 percent.
Senior Rick Schmidt led the team offensively with 26 points, something he did in the first meeting.
“Rick had 33 when we played them earlier,” Boyce said. “So he just took up where he left off. I also told them, ‘It can’t be a one-man show.’”
And it was not.
Brevin Elsholz added 17 points, and Lambson, who missed that first meeting with a knee injury, added 20 points.
“I gotta give credit to our coaches,” Schmidt said. “He came in with a great game-plan. We had time to prepare. That really helped us out.”
It was also helpful that all the pressure was on Murray.
“I feel like Murray had a lot of hype coming into this game,” Schmidt said. “A lot of their players played as freshmen, and this is their big season. They had the pressure, and I think that was a disadvantage. But it was helpful for us.”
Boyce said the team’s defensive plan was to shut down their three-point shooting as much as possible.
“You’ve got to pick your poison,” Boyce said. “They’re such a great offensive team. We feel pretty fortunate that they missed a few shots at the end. Going in we needed to make it as hard as it can possibly be for them because they’re going to hit some big shots. We had to weather their storms, and I thought we did that.”
Highland led from the get-go, but Murray pulled within two, but the Spartans never led.
Boyce said the team isn’t concerned with upsets or other games in the brackets.
“We just play the next team,” he said. “It’s survive and advance.”