SALT LAKE CITY — Two local high school basketball rivals — Bountiful's Sam Merrill and East's Parker Van Dyke — gutted it out for one of the final times in their high school careers Tuesday night at East High's Mickey Oswald Fieldhouse. In the end, it was Merrill and his Braves teammates who left the gym victorious.
“I think I came out more motivated tonight than I have all season long knowing that we were playing against him,” said Merrill of Van Dyke following the Braves' dominating 74-50 victory. “It was definitely a challenge I looked forward to in playing against him.”
East kept it close early and trailed only 16-10 after the first quarter. But the Braves caught fire and went on a 22-10 run through the first five minutes of the second quarter, extending their lead to 38-20. Merrill and Zach Seljaas led the way for the Braves, scoring scoring 16 points and 12 points, respectively, while guiding Bountiful to a 43-24 lead at the break.
“The way they schemed their defense against us was bothering us," said East coach Skip Lowe. "They were running and jumping in front of every player trying to drive to the hoop. They were making us speed up, and play faster than we wanted to. Parker’s a great player but it’s not about one guy.”
The 6-foot-3 Van Dyke was double- and triple-teamed throughout the first half, which limited his production to six points. Van Dyke, who has committed to stay local and play his college basketball for his hometown Utah Utes, entered the game averaging 26 points a game.
“They were just rushing me, triple-teaming me, they did a good job on me,” Van Dyke said. “We had good shots. When I was forced to pass we just didn’t knock them down. I’m sure teams will start to double me more now than ever so we will need other guys to step up.”
A lot of people know about the sensation that is Van Dyke but the Braves proved they have a sensation of their own in the 6-foot-4 Merrill, who has verbally committed to Utah State. Merrill had his best game of the season as he torched East for 29 points, which included three 3-pointers.
“We played great as a team tonight, we took care of the ball well, and rebounded well,” Merrill said.
But it wasn’t just the Sam Merrill Show Tuesday for the Braves. Seljaas continued his fabulous shooting in the second half and finished with 19 points and three 3-pointers. Defensively, Jordan Bleak and Pere LeSueur did the heavy lifting against Van Dyke, holding him to a season-low 10 points.
“The unsung heroes for our team tonight was the job Bleak and LeSueur did on Parker, fabulous defense by them," said Bountiful coach Mike Maxwell. "Our first-half double team of Parker I think got him out of rhythm but our guys continued their strong man defense on him in the second half. We kept our turnovers down tonight, but we still gave up 20 points to (Mitch) Grant, which we will have to improve.
“East is supposed to be the favorites but that’s why you play the games to show who the best on the court is," Maxwell continued. "We're still a young team and there’s plenty to still get better at.”
Bountiful sent a message to all others within their region that they will be a force to be reckoned with for the remainder of the season.
“We are the best team," said Merrill. "We proved that tonight and we have some tough road games coming up and will need to play with the type of effort we produced tonight. Our goal is a state championship and we will not back down from anybody."