The sequel often has a hard time measuring up to the original, but Wednesday night’s boys basketball rivalry showdown between Stansbury and Tooele was certainly an exception.
After blowing a nine-point lead in the teams’ first meeting back in January, Tooele got a bit of redemption on its home court, erasing a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit to pick up a 58-53 win over the Stallions and gain the upper hand in the battle for home-court advantage in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament.
“I’m so proud of them,” Tooele coach Josh Johnsen said. “I’m so happy for our boys — every single one of them. They earned this one tonight.”
Wednesday’s come-from-behind victory also served as a shot at redemption for Tooele senior Mitchell Bunn. In the waning seconds of the Buffaloes’ 44-41 loss to the Stallions on Jan. 12, Bunn had a chance at a game-tying layup, but wasn’t able to convert. On Wednesday, he was front-and-center in Tooele’s furious comeback.
Stansbury (9-10, 7-2 Region 11) led 49-43 with 3:41 left in the fourth quarter after a pair of free throws from Drake Schlappi. Bunn pulled up and drained a 3-pointer from the top of the key to pull Tooele (10-7, 8-2) within three points, and the Buffs stole the ball on the Stallions’ ensuing possession.
Bunn knocked down a game-tying 3-pointer from the left corner, electrifying the near-capacity crowd in Tooele High’s gym. Tooele got a much-needed stop, and Bunn decided to pull up for yet another 3, this time swishing it through from the left wing to give the Buffs just their second lead of the game at 52-49.
“I think it makes up for the missed layup — I think I’ll finally get over that one,” said Bunn, whose trio of 3-pointers came over a span of just 1:02. “The more I think about (the third 3-pointer), looking back on it, it probably wasn’t my smartest shot, but we got it in and we won the game.”
Tooele, which had trailed for all but 1:24 of game time before Bunn’s go-ahead 3, never trailed again. After a Justin Rogers layup and a Kyler Hymas free throw stretched the Buffs’ lead to five points in the final minute, Stansbury senior Josh Jenkins nailed a quick 3-pointer to cut the lead to 55-53. However, the decisive blow was delivered after the Buffs grabbed a crucial offensive rebound off a missed free throw by Hymas, allowing the senior two more shots from the foul line that put the game out of reach.
“Hat’s off to Tooele,” Stansbury coach Joe White said. “They played a great game.”
Before Tooele’s comeback, Stansbury had dominated the game from the start. Jenkins’ layup on the first possession of the game sparked a 7-0 Stansbury run, and the Stallions led by six at the end of the first quarter after Tavita Gagnier was fouled on a buzzer-beating 3-point attempt and knocked down all three free throws.
Tooele rallied from eight points down in the second quarter and briefly took the lead on a 3-pointer by Nathan Swan, but Gagnier pulled the Stallions even at the break.
A quick 10-2 burst to open the second half, with 3-pointers from Schlappi and Jenkins, put Stansbury up 36-28 with 5:22 left in the third quarter. The Stallions’ lead grew to 46-36 on a pair of Jet Richins free throws with 7:33 left in the game, but Tooele outscored Stansbury 18-7 the rest of the way.
“This whole team’s so resilient,” Johnsen said. “We trailed basically the whole game and they never gave up. In the huddle, they were like, ‘we got this, we got this.’ I couldn’t be prouder. That’s a great victory for us.”
Just as important as the win itself, the five-point margin of victory gave the Buffaloes the edge in head-to-head point differential. That means Stansbury must finish with a better record in region play than Tooele in order to secure home-court advantage in the first round of the state tournament, which is set for Feb. 24.
“We had a few slip-ups tonight, but we finished pretty strong,” Bunn said. “I think if we carry that over into our next couple games, we’ve got a pretty good shot at state.”
Beyond the battle between two of Region 11’s top teams, the game also featured a showdown between two of Class 4A’s top scorers in Hymas and Jenkins. Each of them more than lived up to that billing, as Jenkins scored a game-high 25 points on 8-of-11 shooting from the field and a 7-for-8 clip from the line, and Hymas scored a team-leading 18 points for Tooele.
Jenkins averages just over 14.5 points per game for Stansbury, while Hymas puts up 18.1 per contest.
Bunn had 16 points and nine assists for Tooele and freshman center Justin Rogers added 10 points and seven rebounds. Swan and senior Dawson Banks each scored seven points.
“That was the last time the seniors, including myself, are going to play Stansbury, so that was huge for us,” Bunn said. “I think the momentum was definitely on our side after we came back from down 10.”
Schlappi had nine points and six rebounds for Stansbury. Richins hit two 3-pointers and scored eight points. Gagnier had seven points and 10 rebounds and Jaden Jenkins and Hayden Beck each scored two points.
Both teams will wrap up their regular seasons next week. Stansbury travels to Juan Diego on Friday before playing host to Bonneville on Wednesday and traveling to Ogden next Friday. Tooele will play host to Juan Diego on Wednesday and travel to Bonneville next Friday.