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High school boys basketball: Clutch Manti bounces No. 1 Morgan in 3A quarterfinals

ST. GEORGE — Manti needed overtime heroics to beat Providence Hall in the first round of the 3A state tournament last week, but it needed no such heroics in the quarterfinals against No. 1 Morgan.

The Templars pulled ahead early in the fourth quarter at Dixie State and then proceeded to seal the victory at the free-throw line as they knocked off Morgan for the 63-56 victory.

“It’s been there throughout the year, the kids have played really hard. We have really good senior leadership, and that’s what we needed today and we got it,” said Manti coach Devin Shakespeare.

Senior Matt Nelson led Manti with 24 points, which included making 10 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to help ice the victory.

Manti advances to the 3A semifinals and will face Grantsville at 9:30 p.m. on Friday.

Manti trailed 36-35 after the third quarter, but its defense held Morgan to just three points over the first six minutes of the fourth quarter as it methodically built a 49-39 lead with 2:17 remaining.

Travis Thomas had two key lay-ups during the 14-3 run, while Nelson hit a huge 3-pointer with 4:52 remaining — his fourth of the game.

“I thought the first two minutes stood out to me. I thought that we executed offensively, we took a lot smarter shots. Sometimes when you get in that situation when you’re down 1 or 2 you take early shots, and I didn’t see that from us,” said Shakespeare.

Over the final two minutes, Manti made 12 of 14 free throws from the foul line to hold off Morgan’s rally attempt and advance to its first semifinals since winning the 2A state championship in 2015.

The pace of the first half was a very slow one, with Manti only leading 22-18. That pace suited Manti just fine because it figured it needed to slow down Morgan’s two leading scorers Cade Russell and Trey Miles.

Russell finished with 23 points but Miles only had five.

“(We wanted) to make Russell earn his points. Yeah he scored 23 points, but you could see his face he earned every point,” said Shakespeare. “They held to our game plan and executed defensively what we were looking for.”

Both teams picked things up offensively in the third quarter, particularly Morgan. Aided three straight 3-pointers from Laine Carter another from Russell, Morgan built a 36-32 lead with 52 seconds left in the third.

Travis Thomson responded by converting a key three-point play with six seconds left in the quarter, and Manti carried that momentum to the final horn.

“Fourth quarters are always exciting. We take pride in our fourth quarters and feel if we can get right there we’ve got a chance,” said Shakespeare.

Manti finished the game shooting 53 percent from the floor, including 64 percent in the second half.