OGDEN – In their biggest game of the year – the 3-A state semifinals -- the Morgan Trojans rolled slowly out of the gates, spotting nemesis Wasatch the first nine points of the game.
But a consistent, never-quit effort, backed by a huge, enthusiastic crowd, pushed the Trojans to a memorable 52-50 comeback win over the Wasps late Friday night at Weber State’s Dee Events Center.
Jake Miles, struggling from the field all game long, hit two incredibly clutch free throws with just 2.9 seconds left to break a 50-50 tie. Wasatch then inbounded the ball and got all the way to the top of the key, but Cooper Ballstaedt’s desperation 3-pointer was wide left, setting off pandemonium among the Morgan supporters.
“Jake’s been terrific for us all year,” Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe said. “He struggled in the first half, but he’s our leader and he came up big when he needed to.”
“My dad’s always taught me a system since I was a little kid for those kinds of pressure situations,” Miles said. “That way, negative thoughts can’t get in your head. You just focus on putting them in and luckily they both went in.”
After the early deficit, Morgan slowly and methodically worked their way back into the game. They finally took their first lead with 5:53 left in the third quarter. After some back and forth, the Trojans managed to pull away and even led by nine, 50-41 with 4:24 left in the fourth quarter.
But against Wasatch, veterans of the state basketball tournament, nothing is ever easy. The Wasps mounted a big comeback of their own, knotting the score at 50-50. Morgan didn’t score for over four minutes, until Miles’ big foul shots.
“It’s a game of runs,” Wiscombe said. “You just hope that our runs are longer than theirs are.”
“We’ve been down 7, 11 and we’ve always come back and made it a close game,” Miles added. “So we knew we could come back and give them a run for their money. But there was a little more on the line this time, so I think it got to us a little more than in the other games.”
The Trojans (22-2) got key performances from a couple of unheralded players. Garren Miles came off the bench to score eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, and Ben Saunders came through with five points, including a huge 3 to put the Trojans up 49-41.
“Garren came in and gave us some huge minutes tonight,” Wiscombe said. “He had a great game for us off the bench. And Ben’s a competitor. He hit that big 3 over in the corner for us.”
Jake Miles shot just 4-for-13 from the field, but hit 12-of-14 free throws to finish with a game-high 20 points. Jeff Murdock scored 10 to lead the Wasps.
The wins gives Morgan a third date with their biggest rival, Bear River, on the biggest stage, the state championship. The two teams have met twice this year and Morgan won both games, by just one point each time.
“We battle them every year,” Wiscombe said. “And it will be a battle tomorrow night. Bear River played a great game (against Snow Canyon) tonight and hopefully we’ll be up for the challenge tomorrow. It’s been a fun year. Hopefully we’ve got one more in us.”
This is Morgan’s second trip to the championship game in three years. The Trojans lost to Wasatch in the 2011 title game.
Tipoff tonight is set for 7:30 p.m.
“It’s gonna be great,” Miles said. “This place is going to be packed. It’s going to be an awesome environment and I can’t wait.”