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High school boys basketball: Orem continues unlikely 5A tourney run, bounces Lehi to advance to semifinals

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Orem players celebrate a 3-pointer in the 5A boys basketball state quarterfinal game against Lehi at the Dee Events Center in Ogden on Wednesday, March 1, 2023.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

Box score

Orem continued its unlikely march through the 5A state tournament on Wednesday.

The 14th-seed Tigers, who were facing a Lehi team they’d already lost to twice by double digits this season, played outstanding defense for all four quarters to secure an impressive 58-50 victory at the Dee Events Center to advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2018.

After bouncing No. 3 seed Woods Cross on the road in the second round last week, Orem led for most of Wednesday’s game to eliminate No. 6 Lehi.

Orem grabbed a lead late in the first quarter and never relinquished it, stretching it to as many as 14 midway through the third quarter.

“We have a very, very young team, we start two freshman, all underclassmen, just them getting this experience and getting wins on the road at Woods Cross, road here at a neutral court, our confidence is just growing,” said first-year Orem coach Jace Tavita.

It was an up-and-down regular season for Orem, which went 12-10, but in three state tournament wins it has showed tremendous resiliency.

“When you have a young team you’re going to have the ups and downs, some nights where they look like they could be a top four team and other nights they don’t look very great,” said Tavita.

Orem’s coach said he mixed up some things both offensively and defensively in the third game against Lehi, most notably have Asher Young defender Lehi leading scorer Cooper Lewis.

Even though Lewis still scored 31, many of those came as Lehi was forced to play catch-up.

In Orem’s second-round game last week, Young got the defensive assignment against Woods Cross’ Mason Bendinger and he held him to 11 points.

Young had a strong game offensively as well scoring 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting, while freshman Anthony Felesi led the way with a new season-high 24 points.

Orem started to open things up in the second quarter as a 14-4 run stretched the lead to 29-17 by halftime. Lehi made just 2 of 11 shots in that quarter, and even though it shot better in the second half, Orem was effective all game with offensive execution.

“We just tried to game plan and put our kids in position to be successful, credit to them they followed the game plan, they go out and make plays. They just go out and have fun,” said Tavita.

Orem shot 50% from the field and 78% from the line as Lehi was forced to foul to claw back into the game in the fourth.

Lehi cut the lead to seven twice in the fourth quarter with plenty of time to get stops and climb back into the game, but Orem had an answer each time.

At the five minute mark, Felesi hit a jumper to stretch the lead back to 45-36, but the dagger came a few minutes later. As the shot clock was expiring, Lance Reynolds drained an off-balance corner 3-pointer to stretch the lead to 48-38 with just 2:07 remaining in the game.

With the victory, Orem advances to Friday’s semifinals against rival and No. 7 seed Timpview at 8:40 p.m. The teams split their region games this season, both of which were close and very competitive.