Matt Johnson, with a look of focus and determination, tried to will his team to victory against Laramie Dec. 1. The Red Devils fell to the Plainsmen, 39-48. HERALD PHOTO/Mark Madia
CHEYENNE — The defending 4A state champion Red Devils went 2-1 in the McDonald’s Classic Basketball Tournament Nov. 29 - Dec. 1, defeating the Cheyenne East Thunderbirds at the East Thunderdome on Thursday night, 53-39, and downing Cheyenne South at Bison Gym Friday night, 50-45, before falling to Laramie on Saturday afternoon, 39-48, back at East.
Evanston, like their Lady Red Devils counterparts, will not next be in action until the start of the three-day Flaming Gorge Classic, Dec. 13-15.
Senior Matt Johnson, the lone-returning full-time starter and 4A West All-Conference selection, scored the first points of the season for Evanston, which took the early lead on the home-standing Thunderbirds, but it was East who would lead with the first quarter in the books, 10-7.
Evanston outscored East 17-14 in the second quarter to tie the game at halftime, 24 apiece.
The third quarter saw the Red Devils ratchet up their defensive effort, limiting the Thunderbirds to one three-point bucket, while scoring 16, to break open the tight game, leading by 13 heading into the fourth quarter, 40-27.
East would cut the lead to the high single digits on a couple of occasions in the final frame, but the Red Devils held on for the first victory of the year, behind 19 from Johnson, with fellow seniors Kade Lym and Jemini Leckie combining for 30 points with 18 and 12, respectively.
Seniors Taylor Siemers and Nathan Chandler each contributed two points, with Siemers distributing the ball well to teammates all night, from the point guard spot, setting them up for scoring opportunities.
East was led by junior Quintin Pope, with 17, with senior Dixon Maggard and junior Ryan Cook both contributing 8 points.
Johnson’s younger brother, sophomore starter Alek Johnson, left the game early, with what was later determined as a high ankle sprain, and did not play in the next two contests. Coach Roy Barker, when asked about the team not playing on the second weekend of the season, as has been the case for the past few years, pointed to one positive, in hopefully having the younger Johnson back into the line-up by the time Evanston opens play in the Flaming Gorge tournament in Green River and Rock Springs, 12 days apart from their last outing.
The Thunderbirds went 0-3, getting bombed by Natrona County on Friday, 72-43, and losing by 21 to the other Casper school, 31-52, in favor of the Kelly Walsh Trojans.
Evanston 50 at Cheyenne South 45
The Red Devils again took the floor in one of the nightcaps of the three-day tournament played in the gymnasiums of the three Cheyenne high schools, in their first meeting ever on the hardwood, versus the South High Bison, with former Red Devils head coach Jim Shaffer at the helm in the Fighting Bisons’ second year of 4A competition, and just their third overall.
And fight they did. South, competing with senior class players for the first time, forced five lead-changes and two ties, including the first quarter score, 14-14. Senior Jemini Leckie scored eight of his team-high 19 in the first quarter, which included back-to-back three-point shots, with a third just missing. Nathan Chandler had 4 of his 7 in the first quarter, as well. Dalton Greaham converted two three pointers and added a bucket to score 10 of his game-high 21 for the Bison. He also netted two technical foul shots. But more on that later.
Evanston only scored nine in the second, led by Kade Lym’s deuce and trey, but limited South to just four, taking a 23-18 lead into the halftime locker rooms.
In the second half, the Red Devils would maintain their advantage of seven points and add to it, only to witness mini-rallies by the Bison to pull to within four, even making it a one-possession game, as close as three at one point.
The Red Devils would appear to be pulling away, and the Bison would storm back, with a boisterous crowd cheering the home team on, sensing the upset. A win over the state champion Red Devils would be among the top highlights for Bison athletics, if not their biggest achievement to date, in the school’s brief history.
With three quarters complete, Evanston led 35-28, as the Red Devils added a dozen points, while South scored 10.
Midway through the fourth quarter, after hitting his second three-pointer of the ballgame, Lym was issued a technical foul for something he said, in earshot of a referee. The problem was, Lym had already been assessed a technical in the first quarter. If a coach’s or a player’s actions result in a second technical foul being called, the rules are clear, and ejection from the game is the result.
In a tournament setting the disqualification is carried forward to the next game. Coach Barker alluded to the situation in a post-game radio interview: “We’re now down two starters going into the game tomorrow against a good Laramie team, which has won their first two games, with three returning starters from last season.”
The Red Devils were outscored by a bucket in the fourth quarter, 17-15, but hung on for the 50-45 victory. Leckie led Evanston with 19, and a 6-8 performance from the free-throw line. Johnson reached double-digits with 10 on four field goals, and 2-2 shooting from the stripe. Lym had 8, Chandler finished with 6, Siemers ended with 4, and senior Colton Welling’s first varsity points of the season came on a big three-point conversion when the team needed it.
Evanston’s line was 12 field goals, 6 three-point baskets and 8-11 shooting from the line.
The Bison were also 8-11 from the line, and finished with one less three-pointer and one less field goal, accounting for the five-point margin of victory.
Junior Ryan Fawcett added 8 to Greaham’s 21, followed by sophomore Robert Dilsaver’s 7, Adam Haberkorn’s 5, with 4 from returning 4A East All-Conference selection and senior wide-body, Isaiah Simms. Barker credited the Red Devils, and in particular, senior Brady Purcell, for the hard work in limiting the six-foot, four-inch senior’s production.
South finished 0-3, but had Rock Springs on the ropes before getting into foul trouble and falling 59-70 to the Tigers on Thursday. They came back to play the Mustangs of Natrona to an eight-point finish, 59-67. The days of the pretty much assumed or assured wins versus the Bison in basketball are now over, as most knew they would be, under Shaffer’s tutelage.
Laramie 48, Evanston 39 at Cheyenne East
Laramie had no answer for Johnson early on, as he scored eight first-quarter points and Leckie added a deuce and a trey to show the way for Evanston, jumping out to a 13-6 lead with one quarter complete.
Plainsmen coach Chuck Kern made some adjustments to limit Johnson’s effectiveness, and the Plainsmen turned up their defensive intensity overall beginning in the second quarter against the depleted Red Devils squad, doubling up the Red Devils on the scoreboard, 20-10. At the half, Laramie led 26-23.
The two players named Sam, mentioned in the Herald preview story, led the charge, as the duo had enjoyed success against the Red Devils last year, as juniors, in the teams’ meeting in the 2011 McDonald’s Classic. Six-foot-six post presence Sam Hainline scored eight in the second quarter and had 10 at the half, while Sam Feldman had both a two- and three-point field goal, and two free-throws for seven of his nine first-half points, coming in the second quarter.
Both teams scored seven in the third, and it was a one possession game going into the fourth quarter, 33-30, Laramie. Six-three senior Dominick Villareal also factored in for Laramie, with seven of his 11 scored in the third quarter, with all of his production taking place in the second half.
From the point guard spot, Siemers scored eight of his team’s nine total points in the fourth. Johnson, despite being limited to 2-4 shooting from the free-throw line in the second half, looked to put his team on his shoulders and contribute in other ways, as he was all over the floor. Laramie outscored Evanston 15-9 in the final quarter to win, 48-39, and go 3-0 in the tournament.
Leckie and Johnson shared scoring honors for Evanston, each with 11, while Siemers knocked down 10. Chandler and Welling each had 3, and Purcell added one point. Evanston’s line was six field goals, seven three-pointers, and the Red Devils shot 6-11 from the stripe.
It was in stark contrast to the Plainsmen’s line of 18 field goals, just one three-point basket and 9-14 from the charity stripe. Hainline ended with a game high of 16, followed by Feldman and Villareal each netting 11. Senior Tyler Loose scored 7, while senior Abel Casas and junior Drew Burman added 2 and 1, respectively.
Laramie, from the 4A East Conference, joined 4A West member Natrona County in finishing 3-0 in the McDonald’s Classic, as the Mustangs downed all three Cheyenne schools.
Laramie defeated Casper Kelly Walsh, 56-51, on Thursday, and rallied from behind to knock off Rock Springs, 58-44, on Friday, the best performance in the preseason tourney and best start for Plainsmen basketball in many years. Natrona and Laramie square off this Friday in Casper.