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High school boys basketball: Top-seeded Manti Templars weather Grantsville upset bid, advance to 3A semifinals

Manti’s Jordan Blauer shoots as Grantsville’s Tate Allred guards him during the 3A boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Manti won 67-54.
Manti’s Jordan Blauer shoots as Grantsville’s Tate Allred guards him during the 3A boys basketball state tournament quarterfinals at the Lifetime Activities Center in Taylorsville on Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. Manti won 67-54.
Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

TAYLORSVILLE — When you are the top-seeded team in a classification, it is understandable, even expected that you will get every team’s best shot, especially in the state tournament. The whole target on the back adage.

So it wasn’t surprising when, after the No. 1 seeded Manti Templars got off to a quick start in Thursday’s 3A quarterfinal matchup against the No. 8 Grantsville Cowboys, the underdog Cowboys battled back.

“Grantsville is a tough team,” Manti head coach Devin Shakespeare said. “We didn’t expect it to be easy.”

It also wasn’t surprising, however, when Manti weathered that challenge and every one that followed, en route to a 67-54 victory over Grantsville at Bruin Arena on the Salt Lake Community College campus.

The Templars are the top seed for a reason and they looked the part.

All five Manti starters scored in double figures, with Kevin Clark leading the way with 16 points. Connor Christensen and Grady Thompson added 12 points apiece, while Jordan Blauer and Travis Thomson added 11 and 10 points, respectively.

Grantsville was led by the trio of Davin Ekins, Ammon Bartley and Carter Killiann, who combined to score 40 points.

The Templars outshot the Cowboys by 15%, making 23 of 45 attempts from the field, compared to a 17 of 47 outing by Grantsville. Manti outrebounded Grantsville 33-25, dishes out more assists (15-12) and even had more blocks (4-3).

It was a far cry from the team’s previous matchup this season, in the early season Central Utah Basketball Preview. Manti won that game in a close one, 70-63, but the Templars have come a long way since then.

“I feel like our guys maturity-wise have grown up as far as decision making,” Shakespeare said. “Our defense has also improved since the first time we played them. For us, the difference then to now is just our defense has gotten better, our decision-making has gotten better and guys have continued to grow up.”

That maturity was on display in the third quarter, especially. Manti largely controlled the first half, but a late second quarter run pulled the Cowboys within 12 at the break. Grantsville went on a game-changing run to start the third quarter, putting legitimate pressure on the Templars as their once sizable lead dwindled into single digits.

Manti had an answer, though, and before long the lead was double digits again. Grantsville cut into the lead again late in the fourth quarter, but by then the game was Manti’s.

“They made a quick burst,” said Shakespeare. “It showed a lot of resilience from our guys as far as getting stops and not taking possessions off. We got back to our defense and got a few stops. We got back to what we were doing and were able to break free a little bit back and forth, but Grantsville did a great job.”

Manti wasn’t perfect by any means — “We have to cut back a few turnovers and a few other things,” Shakespeare said — but the victory reenforced what they’ve proven all season long — when they are at their best they are nearly impossible to beat.

“As long as we do our best we give ourselves a chance,” Shakespeare said.