Habits are hard to break, especially bad ones. For Desert Hills, its Achilles’ heel off and on this season has been blowing leads.
So it wasn’t surprising to coach Chris Allred when his team’s eight-point lead over Juan Diego with two minutes remaining in Tuesday’s 4A semifinal completely vanished.
“We’ve had practice doing that all season long,” joked Allred.
His team has also gotten pretty good at recovering from those wasted leads, which the Thunder did again at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield to book its place in Wednesday’s 4A final.
After Juan Diego went ahead by one following a 9-0 run over a 1:28 stretch late, Desert Hills had the perfect final rebuttal as Reggie Newby drained a corner 3-pointer with 7.6 seconds remaining, which proved to be the game winner as the Thunder held on for the 52-50 victory.
Like most of his teammates Newby had an off night shooting, but Allred said he was glad it was his senior who ended up with the open look coming off a screen on the baseline inbounds pass.
“He’s shown the ability to bounce back after missing some shots early to make some shots late in games. That was the guy we needed taken the shot,” said Allred.
The play Allred drew up coming out of the timeout was for Mason Landdeck to curl off an interior screen. When the defense sagged in on Landdeck, that left Newby alone in the corner for the game winner.
“It’s not what we drew up but we were happy with the result,” said Allred.
Newby finished with 10 points on two 3-pointers, with Preston Vandermyde leading the Thunder with 12 points as leading scorer Landdeck was bottled up by Juan Diego’s defense most of the night finishing with just nine points.
Desert Hills’ defense was just as effective going the other way, a trend Allred has been very pleased with after winning numerous high-scoring games early in the season.
In the playoffs, Desert Hills has held its three opponents to 50, 43 and 50 points.
“I feel like we’ve done a really good job defensively the last few weeks of the season,” said Allred. “I was hoping to get a little more offense but to Juan Diego’s credit they did a good job of keeping us out of rhythm. We didn’t some of the looks we thought we would’ve.”
Tuesday’s game was tight and physical throughout, with 12 lead changes and four ties.
The final tie was at 41-41 on a Desert Hills free throw, part of a 9-0 run giving it a 49-41 lead with 2:20 remaining.
Over the next 1:28, Juan Diego responded with its own 9-0 run seizing a 50-49 lead as its intense half-court pressure defense forced Desert Hills into some rushed shots and turnovers.
Juan Diego had a chance to stretch its lead with a pair of free throws with 24 seconds remaining, but missed both. At the other end, Desert Hills missed its first two shots, including a Newby 3-pointer from the other corner, but it got the offensive rebound both times.
Given another chance, Newby didn’t miss again.
Juan Diego advanced the ball to half court and called a timeout with 3.5 seconds remaining. It ended up with a good look as well on a deep straightaway 3-pointer that narrowly missed drawing back iron.
“We made it a goal a long time ago that our goal was to play the last game of the last day of the season, we almost let that slip away but fortunately we were able to make that last shot to give ourselves that opportunity,” said Allred.
In the loss, Malick Diallo led Juan Diego with 16 points, with Dave Kinneberg chipping in with 14 points.