Win sends Payson to Quarterfinals in St. George
FINAL: Payson 71, Ogden 56
In the first quarter of the round one showdown between Payson and Ogden, it looked like the Lions weren’t ready for the pressure.
Ogden jumped out on Payson early with a defensive intensity that had the number-one seeded Lions back on their heels throughout the first period. The Tigers’ pressure caused the Lions to miss several point-blank shots and Payson’s star guard Clint Bateman threw up an air ball early in the quarter.
“I think we came out with kind of a deer-in-the-headlight look, you know,” said Bateman. “Since I’ve been playing, the first rounds are always kind of the hardest to get past.”
The Lions calmed down a bit in the second quarter, though, using their size advantage underneath to secure a 26-22 lead at halftime. But a four-point lead over a fourth-seeded Ogden team was not Payson Head Coach Dan Lunt’s idea of a great half.
Lunt must have said something to his team in the locker room, because when they stepped back on the court in the second half they were a different team than the one who had barley managed to take a two-possession lead in the first half.
“Coach just said that we had to come out with more intensity and not back down,” said Payson guard Skyler Rowley.
The Lions did their coach one better. They came out and dominated the Tigers on both ends of the floor for the next 16 minutes of regulation.
Back-to-back three-pointers from Payson’s Jamon Lunt and Tanner Newbold got the Lions’ engine started and they never let off the gas, outscoring the Tigers 20-10 in the third quarter. Holding the ball for the last shot, the Lions burned 36 seconds off the clock before Newbold buried a last-second three to end the third.
The Tigers lost their steam at that point.
Ogden’s leading scorer Lyden Egbert chalked up their undoing to a lack of focus and a barrage of three-balls.
“Well, they just kept hitting threes,” said Egbert after the game. “That’s a real momentum killer.”
Leading 46-32 entering the fourth, Payson launched an all-out attack on the Tigers. The Lions jumped out with a 10-0 run, forcing Ogden Head Coach Jace McKee to call a timeout to stop the onslaught.
Payson guard Kade Jensen says he knew his team would get going eventually. “It took us a little bit to get into our groove,” said Jensen in the locker room after the game. “As soon as we found it we were coasting.”
The Tigers were never able to get the game back to within single digits and the Lions appeared to feed off of their opponents’ lack of focus. With every Payson basket Ogden looked more frustrated, and big defensive plays from Payson’s sixth man Rowley all but deflated the Tigers. The final score was 71-56.
When asked about Payson’s turn-around from the first half to the second half, Lions Assistant Coach Craig Buys said it had to do with their psyche. “I just think that they were tentative, a little bit nervous and amped up,” said Buys of the first half. “But when they settled down and decided to play Payson basketball – which we did in the second half – we got aggressive, we executed well, we defended well.”
Bateman looked determined as he ran the Lions through each offensive set and his team responded with good ball movement and great shooting. With what may have been the dagger of the game, Jensen found himself with a good look outside of the arc with two Tigers collapsing on defense. Jensen passed up his open shot and found Newbold wide open for a three which he immediately buried.
When asked what it takes to pass up an open shot like that, Jensen says it’s trust. “I know he’s going to bury it,” he said of Newbold.
If anyone’s going to bury it, it’s probably going to be Newbold, who currently leads the division in three-point percentage.
Even with a blowout win against an Ogden team that went 6-6 in their region, the Lions know they are still an underdog going into the quarterfinals of the state tournament. After Cedar knocked off second-seeded Wasatch last night, the Lions will get their opportunity to prove themselves right away.
Until they beat the Region 9 favorites, however, Payson will stay plagued by doubters.
“There will always be doubters,” said Bateman in the locker room. “No one ever thinks Payson can win, that we’re small farm kids – but we get it done I guess.”
He says his team will feed off of the doubters when they’re playing in St. George. “We like it,” said Bateman of being considered an underdog. “We wouldn’t have it any other way. I mean, underdog role’s always the best.”
The road to the championship looks difficult for the Lions who would most likely have to face multiple opponents out of the strong Region 9 to win it all, including a possible match-up with tournament favorite Desert Hills in the championship game should they make it that far.
Buys says the team’s not thinking that far ahead right now. “We got to beat Cedar first,” he said. “Then we’ll worry about the next team.”
The Lions will get a short break before heading out to Dixie State College in St. George where Cedar will be waiting for a 12:50 p.m. showdown on Thursday, Feb 23. It’s a three games in three days tournament from there on out.
Tonight’s game against Ogden won’t give the Lions much indication of how their quarterfinal game agaisnt Cedar will be. Cedar is a team with more size, unlike the small but scrappy Tigers.
Stay tuned to inSantaquin News for more tournament updates and an updated tournament bracket throughout the next week.