CEDAR CITY — Morgan never knows when the run will come, but it always does.
With length and athleticism all over the court, it’s only a matter of time before turnovers start to mount for an opponent under the Trojans' pressing defense and they blow the game wide open.
It’s happened all season, and it happened again during Friday’s 3A semifinal at Southern Utah University.
Trailing Payson by five midway through the second quarter, Morgan’s tenacious defending led to some deflections and steals and quick transition buckets, and 14 points later it led by nine points. Underdog Payson never fully recovered.
Morgan rode the momentum of that early spurt, and several more throughout the game, to knock off Payson 61-47 and advance to Saturday’s 3A state championship, where it will face Cedar at 7:30 p.m.
“Sometimes with the press you can go on streaks more so than if you don’t,” said Morgan coach Jim Wiscombe. “I think basketball is a game of runs. I think with the press a lot of times those streaks can be longer and you get a steal or two and you get a couple of easy baskets.”
Leading 27-18 after that 14-0 run, Morgan maintained its nine-point cushion at the half.
In the third quarter, though, Payson, which overcame a big deficit to beat Pine View in the quarterfinals, started clawing back into the game and whittled Morgan's lead to 37-32 with 2:45 remaining in the third.
In a flash, the momentum was gone again.
Behind nine points from Garren Miles, the Trojans responded with an 11-0 run, pushing its lead back to 48-32 with 6:00 left in the game, and the lead never dipped below double digits the rest of the night.
Miles led Morgan with 20 points, with Ben Saunders adding 15.
About the only thing Morgan’s coaching staff wasn’t pleased with was the team’s free-throw shooting — a paltry 18 of 31.
“We’re usually a good free-throw shooting team, but we missed some tonight,” said Wiscombe, whose team has now won 15 straight since losing in the championship game of the Riverton Holiday Tournament last December.
That tourney helped turn Morgan’s season around, and it hasn’t looked back since.
“Throughout the year we had a target on our backs, but I think the Riverton tournament showed us what we could do,” said Saunders.
Now a Morgan team that hadn’t won a state championship in 40 years prior to last season's title will try and win a second straight championship on Saturday. It faces a motivated and talented Cedar team that hasn’t won a state title since 1995 and should have a large contingent of fans on hand at the Centrum.
Cedar beat Morgan 54-53 in Richfield back in early December, but the Trojans were missing two injured starters at the time and they’ve only lost two games since.
“Like last year, when we had the advantage of playing in Ogden, they’re sleeping in their beds. But we’ll show up (Saturday) and see what happens,” said Wiscombe.
Payson’s Daniel Reno led all scorers in the loss with 21 points.
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