GARLAND — It’s still early January, but Morgan’s boys basketball team took a huge step toward claiming the Region 11 title Wednesday night.
Facing arguably their toughest region test of the season at Bear River, the Trojans hung tough for four quarters and shot the lights out from the free-throw line to eke out a narrow 76-75 victory over the Bears.
“It’s a huge win. We knew this would probably be the toughest game we would play here at Bear River. We’re sitting pretty in first place, and now all we have to do is protect our home court,” said Jake Miles, who scored 38 points courtesy of a scintillating 15-of-15 night at the line.
Miles' 38 points was one shy of the 39-point career high he set last Friday in a 112-68 win over Tooele. Like that Tooele game, Morgan will likely blow out a lot of Region 11 teams this year, but winning at Bear River was always going to be extremely tough.
“I’ve had a lot of good teams through the years who couldn’t win at Bear River. It’s so tough up here,” said Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe, whose team improved to 5-0 in Region 11 with the win.
In a game that was tight throughout, which included two ties in the final two minutes, incredibly Morgan never trailed the entire second half. It looked poised to run away with the victory after starting the fourth quarter on an 11-4 run to open up a 65-54 lead, but Bear River is far too good offensively to go that quietly.
Led by Wade Miller, who had 28 points with six 3-pointers, Bear River chipped away at Morgan's lead and eventually tied it at 70-70 on a Miller triple with 2:05 remaining.
The Trojans regained the lead on a Ben Saunders layup with 1:44 remaining, but Bear River tied it again on a pair of free throws from Kyle Zundel with 1:17 left.
Miles responded on Morgan’s next possession by doing what he does best — getting to the foul line and sinking the free throws. His 14th and 15th freebies of the game put Morgan back in front 74-72 with 40 seconds remaining.
After calling a timeout, Bear River missed a 3-pointer with 13 seconds remaining and then a rebound-putback attempt with eight seconds remaining, before Morgan’s Cameron Skinner corralled the rebound and was fouled.
The senior calmly stepped to the line and sank both free throws with 7.2 seconds remaining to ice the victory, and make Miller’s 3-pointer at the buzzer a moot point.
Morgan enjoyed a huge advantage at the line, sinking 23-of-27 attempts compared to just 4 of 5 for Bear River.
“We are a bit quicker than they are and we can attack the basket, and they are a physical team. Thankfully they called the physical game tonight,” said Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe.
No one benefited more than Miles, who was averaging 25.7 points coming in.
“When I get to the free-throw line, it opens up other ways to score and I get more confidence in my shot,” said Miles.
After a relatively quiet first quarter, Miles scored 10 points in the final four minutes of the first half as Morgan built a 39-30 lead. Bear River spent the entire second half whittling away at the lead, but Morgan always had a response as it escaped with the huge win.