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High school boys basketball: Orem grinds out first-round win over Highland

OGDEN — Orem coach Golden Holt was OK with his team slogging through a 50-42 victory over Highland Tuesday night in the opening round of the 4A state tournament.

He’s often reminded his players that in last year’s loss to Bountiful in the 4A title game, the final score was 44-43.

“You don’t score 70 points in tournament basketball,” he said.

That’s why Tuesday’s win was a great step for an Orem team hoping to be playing for a championship at the end of the week. It was workmanlike, a style that suits Orem well.

“This team is different than any team I’ve had at Orem. I’ve said we’re Clydesdales, not thoroughbreds, and we had a Clydesdale performance tonight,” said Holt.

Orem was efficient offensively, shooting 50 percent from the field, but more importantly it clamped down defensively on a Highland team that was one of the best scoring teams in 4A this season.

Highland shot just 36 percent from the field and only 3-of-13 from 3-point range.

Orem led 41-31 early in the fourth quarter, but a couple of unconventional turnovers allowed Highland to claw back to 41-36 with 4:31 remaining on a 3-pointer by Brandon Warr, who led the Rams with 19 points.

A 3-point play by Jonathan Johnson helped push Orem back ahead 44-38, but Highland quickly cut it back to 44-38 on a jumper by Max Wilson.

Over the next minute, Highland had two good looks at 3-pointers that could’ve whittled the deficit to one possession, but neither shot dropped.

The Rams did briefly cut the lead to 44-40 after Orem missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but there was no panic from the Tigers, who quickly stretched the lead to 46-40 on a dunk by Richard Harward with less than a minute remaining.

“I wish we would’ve finished a little better with free throws, but other than that I was happy with this first game,” said Holt. “It’s a good first game for us, it’s going to help us get better on Thursday.”

Harward led the way for Orem with 16 points, with Wilhelm Clark chipping in with 14 points and nine rebounds.

James Edward is the Deseret News prep editor and Real Salt Lake beat writer.