Boys’ Basketball: Hug defeats Douglas for regional title
The script played out the same as it has all season.
The Douglas boys’ basketball team struggled out of the gates and fell back early.
The Tigers then came thundering back, leaving the outcome to be decided in the final five minutes.
Just as it appeared Douglas was preparing to put the masterful finishing touches on an unbelievable storybook finish, reining Northern 4A player of the year Andrew Johnson stepped in the way.
Johnson scored eight of Hug High’s final 10 points, had 12 of his 18 points in the fourth quarter and grabbed a game-sealing steal with 10 seconds left to led the Hawks to a 74-69 win in the Northern 4A Regional Championship game at Spanish Springs Saturday night.
It marked Hug’s second regional title in four years and and a heartbreaker for Douglas as the Tigers suffered their fourth loss in a regional final in six years.
Hug dominated the first half, jumping out to a 40-26 lead and Douglas dominated the third quarter, outscoring the Hawks 23-11 to cut the gap to 51-49 heading into the fourth.
From there, though, the story became Johnson’s ability to stymie Douglas’ comeback efforts with circus shot after circus shot.
“We knew he’d do that,” Douglas coach Corey Thacker said. “He’s just a good player. You have to stick with him, stay after it. He wanted the ball there late and he made the plays.”
Hug got things going early after Douglas’ Connor Hughes scored the game’s first basket. The Hawks rattled off three consecutive baskets and carried an 18-6 lead into the second quarter while allowing only one field goal through the remainder of the quarter.
“They knocked down shots, you have to give Hug credit,” Thacker said. “But I don’t think we were ready to go. You can put that on me. I thought we were ready, but we just came out flat. We couldn’t afford to do that and Hug took advantage.”
Douglas got back into the game on the strength of its team defense, piecing together an 18-3 run through the middle of the third to tie the game at 48.
The latter part of the run was 13-0 in favor of the Tigers as Douglas made a number of key stops on the defensive end and got a huge 3-pointer from Jake Tessmann at the three-minute mark.
“It was defense that got us there,” Thacker said. “We gave up 40 in the first half and our goal is to only allow 50 in the whole game. Then we come out and give up only 11 in the third quarter.”
It was Johnson, though, who put a quick stop to the run, making a lay-up on a quick drive with 1:02 remaining in the quarter.
“It takes a lot of energy to come back like that,” Thacker said. “Our conditioning is good, but mentally it’s a battle to get over the hump. We got it to 48 and couldn’t quite get over it. It takes the wind out of your sails.
“It we would have come out playing like that, maybe we’re looking at a different outcome. But Hug played well. That’s how it goes. They stuck with what got them here.”
The Hawks outscored Douglas 13-5 over the first five minutes of the fourth quarter and appeared ready to walk away with the win, leading 64-54.
The Tigers, though, refused to go quietly.
Douglas’ Hunter Myers scored inside with two of his team-high 21 points with 2:18 remaining.
The Tiger defense came up with a stop and then Tessman hit from the elbow to cut the score to 64-58 with 1:39 remaining.
Hug’s Johnson scored on another wild drive to the basket, but Tessmann hit from the right corner behind the arc to cut it to 66-61 with 1:07 left.
Johnson again scored, but Connor Hughes answered with a 3-pointer on the run to bring the Tigers to within four at 68-64 with 48 seconds remaining.
Douglas intentionally fouled Johnson, who missed the front end of a one-and-one and Hughes converted a driving lay-up to bring the Tigers to within two at 68-66 with 34 seconds left.
The Tigers again fouled Johnson, who hit both of his free throws to extend the lead to 70-66.
Douglas had a 3-point attempt fly errant on its next possession before Johnson missed the front end of yet another one-and-one which the Tigers were able to rebound.
Johnson, though, stepped up with what turned out to be the game-sealing steal and the Hawks hit four of four free throws down the stretch before Douglas’ Michael Nolting hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to set the score at its final.
While Douglas missed out on the regional title, their season will continue Thursday in the first round of the state tournament against nationally-ranked Bishop Gorman at Lawlor Events Center in Reno.
It will be the third nationally-ranked team Douglas has seen this season.
“It’s not over for us,” Thacker said. “We have a great opportunity. Only four teams are still playing this week and we are one of them. Our spring, our summer games, our preseason schedule, I think it sets us up. We’ve faced nationally-ranked teams and we’ve seen nationally-ranked players.
“At the end of the day, it’s still basketball, no matter how you look at it. You go out and play your game.
“It doesn’t matter who you play. You lay it on the line and see where the cards fall.”