SALT LAKE CITY — It wasn’t showing on Bobby Porter’s closely shaved head yet Thursday evening, but he likely sprouted a few grey hairs following Layton Christian’s 43-39 victory over Rowland Hall.
Porter needed one of his talented, athletic players to make a big play late in the game. Instead, the Eagles had to rely on their defense and Souleymame Barro and Shorn Solomon scored baskets off turnovers that kept them in first place in the Region 17 boys basketball standings.
“It was a great environment and the kids fought hard,” Porter said. “We knew we were deeper. Everybody plays us hard and we were down much of the game. We fought to the end.”
Porter expects his team to challenge for the region and 2A state titles and this match was a battle for early season supremacy. Layton Christian improved to 10-5 overall, despite a schedule that has included games against independent power Wasatch Academy and bigger schools like West (6A) and Timpview (5A).
This time, Layton Christian had to deal with other handicaps, such as playing in Rowland Hall’s middle-school gym. Located up the hill from its high school, the coronavirus pandemic forced the Winged Lions to move their home games to the smaller facility for safety reasons — its gym is a stand-alone alone building and has minimal locker-room facilities. Plus, no fans or cheerleaders are allowed. The gym also has glass backboards with a white wall background that can frustrate players.
“Nobody was going to shoot well in this one,” Porter said.
Still, Burro and Akeel Felix finished with 10 points each, and Solomon had eight points and nine rebounds. Layton Christian had its dominant moments, jumping to a 6-0 lead but lost it in the second quarter and then regained it with another 6-0 run to start the third quarter.
Rowland Hall remained close behind Galib Ibrahima’s 12 points, while Ozzie Smith and Kai Dowdle had 11 each. Smith, a talented junior, also made several key defensive plays, including a near-steal in the final seconds of regulation that prevented Layton Christian from breaking a 37-37 tie, even though it held the ball for over a minute and had time to prepare.
“We’re not very deep. We got a chance to rest and then knew we had to make a (defensive) play when it counted,” said Rowland Hall coach Zack Alvidrez, who relished the adrenaline rush the game provided and hoped it would affect his players the same way as this unique season moves closer to the state tournament.
“I moved Galib and Ozzie up (to varsity) last year because I knew we would need them this year. We’re getting better. We didn’t shoot well, but we’re proving that we belong (with 2A’s top teams).”
Rowland Hall made just 12 of 38 shots and, with the exception of Ibrahima and Dowdle’s timely 3-pointers in the second half, couldn’t find consistent scoring. Both teams also shot poorly from the free-throw line, forcing each team’s defense to decide the outcome.
“We play them again up there (in Layton) a couple of days before state,” Alvidrez said. “We’ll be looking forward to that, and then we’ll see where we are.”