The Grantsville boys basketball team woke up on Saturday faced with having to play a game it didn’t want to be in, against an opponent it had already faced twice, following a heartbreaking loss that ended its state championship dreams the day before.
However, once the ball went in the air to open the third-place game of the Class 3A state tournament against Judge Memorial, Grantsville wasn’t going to allow a magical season to end on a sour note. Davin Ekins converted a free throw in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime, and the Cowboys defeated the Bulldogs 62-59 at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield to complete an 18-3 season.
“For sure, not the outcome we wanted, but we got close,” Grantsville coach Nate Austin said. “I think that’s what’s hard. We know we had a good enough team to win it all. It wasn’t just a hope or a wish. We knew we had a good enough team, and unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.”
The Cowboys had their state-title run halted Friday night in a 51-49 loss to No. 5 San Juan, having been outscored 27-19 in the second half by the Broncos. That left Grantsville, which entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed, feeling deflated after falling short of its ultimate goal.
Judge Memorial (14-9), which had lost to Grantsville fairly convincingly in two previous meetings during Region 13 play, came out motivated in the third game of the trilogy, Austin said. Bulldogs senior Dom Burns led all scorers with 26 points, putting the Cowboys in danger of suffering their lone consecutive defeats of the season.
“It was probably the hardest thing we’ve done all year,” said Austin, who admitted he isn’t a fan of the third- and fifth-place games. “It was incredibly difficult, but I was proud of my group. It was disappointing, especially to play a region team for the third time. I’m incredibly proud of my guys for rallying together and finishing the season on a high note.”
However, the Cowboys’ own senior stars were up to the task in the final game of their high-school careers. Ekins scored 20 points and pulled down 10 rebounds, and sharpshooter Tuhker Mulford went 5-of-9 from 3-point range on his way to 19 points. Grayson McKeever had five points, six rebounds and four assists.
“As we move forward in the days and weeks going forward, we’ll look back on this year and recognize a lot of the great things we accomplished this year,” Austin said.
Brigham Mulford had seven points for Grantsville, while Carter Killian had six, JJ Backus had three and Tate Allred scored two.
Nico Smith had 14 points and Mat Skorut added eight in the loss for Judge Memorial.
No. 2 Juab won the state championship with a 54-50 win over San Juan. No. 4 Grand defeated No. 3 Manti 72-63 in the fifth-place game.
No. 5 San Juan 51, No. 1 Grantsville 49
The Cowboys appeared to be on their way to the title game after a strong first half, building a 30-24 lead. However, the Broncos, who had overcome an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit in their quarterfinal win over No. 4 Grand on Thursday, were never out of it, and clutch shooting by Cooper Black lifted San Juan to the win.
“We knew going into that game that No. 1, San Juan’s a really good team,” Austin said. “We felt like top to bottom, they might be the most talented team in 3A, or right up there with us and Juab. Even though they were fifth in the RPI, they weren’t healthy for most of the year and they really found their game at the right time. Down the stretch, they made the plays and they made the shots … and we turned the ball over and missed (shots). It was just execution in the moments that you had to execute.”
Black had 16 points for the Broncos (18-8), who had lost to Grantsville 52-43 at the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic on Dec. 30 in Cedar City. Jace Palmer, Jensen Grover and Jayden Black each scored eight points.
Ekins had 12 points for Grantsville. Tuhker Mulford, Brigham Mulford, Noah Mouritsen and Killian had eight points each.
No. 1 Grantsville 50, No. 8 Carbon 37
The Cowboys broke open a tie game with a strong second half, outscoring the Dinos (13-10) 33-20 after halftime.
Tuhker Mulford led three Grantsville players in double-figures with 14 points. Ekins had 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Allred added 12 points and seven rebounds.