After a long bus trip to southern Utah, the Tooele boys basketball team came out sluggish in the first half of its Class 4A second-round state tournament game against Crimson Cliffs.
That spelled doom for the No. 14-seeded Buffaloes against the third-ranked Mustangs, who erupted for 25 first-quarter points and built a 15-point halftime lead on their way to a 74-53 win that ended Tooele’s season at Crimson Cliffs High School in Washington City.
“I think they caught us a little off-guard with their athleticism and length,” Tooele coach Jed Thomas said. “They did a great job getting in passing lanes, and we struggled to make some easy passes — there weren’t really any easy passes, I guess.”
Crimson Cliffs (19-5) gave Tooele (11-13) problems all night with timely 3-point shooting. The Mustangs were 9-of-23 (39.1%) from beyond the 3-point arc, led by Hudson Hawes (4-of-8) and Trei Rockhill (4-of-11). As a result, the Buffs were outscored in each quarter, and were never able to close the gap.
“We knew they were a solid team coming in,” Thomas said. “We knew it would be an uphill battle and we had to play really well to beat them. Unfortunately, we just had a few too many turnovers and a few defensive breakdowns that led them to a pretty good lead early on, and it’s kind of hard to come back on a good team like that.”
Rockhill led four Mustangs in double-figures with 20 points, and Hawes had 14. Cole Sampson had 13 points and six rebounds and Brock Felder added 10 points and seven rebounds.
Justin Rogers led Tooele with 23 points in his final high-school game. Nathan Begnaud had nine points, while McCade Laughlin had eight and Ethan Simmons added six. Julian Mahoe (five points) and Pacesen McLaws (two points) completed the Buffaloes’ scoring.
Next season will be one of change for Tooele. The Buffaloes will be making the jump to Class 5A’s Region 7, where they will be joined by Cottonwood, Hillcrest and Payson in addition to current Region 10 foes Cedar Valley, Stansbury and Uintah. The biggest change might be losing a four-year starter in Rogers, who developed into an important leader over the course of his career in purple.
“That’s the toughest thing to replace with a Justin Rogers — the leadership that he showed and the dedication that he had,” Thomas said. “There’s some kids that will have that, and it will take a year or two to develop some of that, but I think we’re heading in the right direction.”
However, the Buffs have grown accustomed to such changes. This year’s team had very little varsity experience after the loss of six seniors to graduation, forcing inexperienced players into key roles. Many of those players, including Mahoe, Begnaud and Simmons, will return next year with a season of varsity basketball under their belts.
“I feel like we were in most of the games we played this year,” Thomas said. “I feel like we gave ourselves a chance, and in the end, we just couldn’t make those few buckets or finish those few plays or get those few rebounds to get the win in the end. I feel like we were fairly competitive in most of the games we played this year, which is a good thing.”