ST. GEORGE — The challenge for Manti on Saturday night at Dixie State was a simple one, figure out how to flip the script on South Sevier.
During region play South Sevier beat Manti by 25 points and then again by seven points, and many figured third meeting in Saturday’s 3A championship would be much the same.
Manti made sure it wasn’t.
The Templars used a huge run in the third quarter and never looked back as they pulled away from South Sevier for the 63-50 victory to claim the 3A state title.
“It’s unreal; it’s like I’m on top of the world right now,” said Manti’s Matt Nelson as he clutched the state championship trophy after the game.
Nelson led Manti with 20 points, and seven of those points came during the decision 18-1 surge in the third quarter that allowed the Templars to pull away for good.
The game was close at the half, but Manti coach Devin Shakespear had a strong message for his team. In the previous two games against South Sevier it was the Rams who pulled away with big second halves. Shakespear told his players: Why not us this time?
“We’re the ones who (need) to come out with the passion, the fire the energy. No lapses, no defensive letdowns, just super-focused and execution down the stretch,” said Shakespear.
Manti pulled away very quickly and emphatically in the third quarter.
After South Sevier’s Caleb Barton hit a 3-pointer early in the third tying the score at 30-30, Manti ripped off an 18-1 run over the next four minutes to open up a 48-31 lead with 1:57 left in the third.
It was similar to the 18-0 run that Manti had against Grantsville the night before in the 3A semifinal victory.
“We’re had a lot of slow third quarters, and this playoff season we’ve taken a lot of pride in how strong we’ve played in the last two quarters,” said Nelson.
Transition buckets ignited the 18-1 run as 10 of the points came at the rim after Manti turnovers or missed shots.
Unlike Grantsville, though, South Sevier is an explosive offensive team, and there was plenty of time to try to fight back into the game. Led by 3-pointers from Brodee Tebbs, Barton and Kaetz King and then a key 3-point play from Easton Hunt, South Sevier cut the deficit to 54-47 with 2:22 remaining left in the game.
During South Sevier’s 16-6 run, Manti actually helped the Rams by hurrying several possessions and even taking some ill-advised 3-pointers despite the big lead in the fourth quarter.
Sensing how precarious the lead had become, Shakespear called a timeout, and, from that point on, Manti protected the lead how you’d expect and eventually stretched it back to double digits.
Shakespear reminded his team, “We play four-minute games in practice every day; let’s go play a four minute game and execute. Don’t slow down.”
Manti finished the game shooting 53 percent from the field compared to just 34 percent from South Sevier.
Tebbs led South Sevier with 17 points, while Barton added 13 points, but things didn’t come as easy for the pair as they did in the previous two games as Manti made a concerted effort to defend them differently in the championship game.
“We made two big adjustment I felt I should’ve made last game on Caleb and Brodee. We guarded them a little bit different, put different guys on him,” said Shakespear
Deseret News All-Tournament Team
MVP — Matt Nelson, Manti
Travis Thomson, Manti
Caleb Barton, South Sevier
Brodee Tebbs, South Sevier
Brady Arbon, Grantsville
Derek Smith, Delta