In the end it was star versus star — Evanston’s Matt Johnson guards Star Valley’s Wyatt Shinaver. HERALD PHOTO/Mark Madia
EVANSTON — Just another game decided by a single point, reminiscent of last year between Evanston and Star Valley, that’s all. Only this one added in an extra four-minute overtime period, as a single point at the end of regulation apparently wasn’t close enough. And, like last year, Evanston won in Afton, this time 51-50.
Friday night’s barn-burner pitted the 3A’s top-ranked team against the fifth-ranked team in 4A. Oh, and there is just a wee bit of a rivalry between the schools dating back to the roaring 1920s, if not before. The basketball rivalry, along with volleyball, wrestling, soccer, golf, track and other sports, has only intensified or become more meaningful, as a result of the two teams 120 miles apart no longer meeting on the gridiron, even if they are no longer in the same league or conference.
It was raining threes in the first quarter, with a total of six from beyond the arc converted by the two squads. Star Valley’s leading scorer, Wyatt Shinaver, and teammate Trace Haderlie, both drained long-bombs for the Braves, but Evanston doubled the Braves’ production from 19-feet, nine inches and beyond.
Kade Lym hit a pair, with Jemini Leckie and Taylor Siemers each netting one for the Red Devils, who jumped out to a 19-12 first quarter lead before a fantastic and spirited crowd, mostly comprised of the hometown faithful, but with plenty clad in blue and scarlet, countering for the visiting Red Devils.
Both teams would end the game with seven three-pointers, and if the number of threes, the close score and overtime didn’t conjure up enough parity, only four players from each team reached the scoring column, with a pair of Red Devils and a pair of Braves finishing in double-digits. Passey scored two answered baskets to give Star Valley a 4-0 lead. From there, Evanston went on a 19-8 run to close the quarter.
The Braves stormed back to outscore the Red Devils 13-9 in the second quarter, resulting in a one-possession separation at the break, with Evanston up 28-25. The first half featured five lead changes.
The second half offered up just one lead change, but tossed in four ties and a bunch of one-point differentials. Evanston’s leading scorer on the season, Matt Johnson, led all scorers with 11 at halftime, while Dalton Passey paced the Braves with nine. Passey is averaging seven points per game, but really seems to get up for Evanston, as he led his team in one match-up last season, if not both, despite being a middle-of-the-pack scorer for the Braves last year, and again this season. Leckie picked up his third foul, as he drew the assignment of shutting down Shinaver, and had to sit for much of the middle quarters, getting his six points for the game in the first quarter.
Kade Lym connected on his second pair of treys in the third quarter, with Johnson adding two deuces and two from the stripe to tally a dozen for the Red Devils. The Braves, on two answered threes by Kole Battleson, five more points from Passey, and a bucket by Shinaver, netted a baker’s dozen, to pull within two, with three quarters complete, at 38-40.
Johnson added six points in quarter number four with a pair of converted free-throws from Siemers for Evanston’s eight, but Shinaver hit for six and Passey added four more, resulting in nothing decided at the end of regulation, with a 48-48 tie.
In the extra period, both teams ratcheted up their defensive intensity. Johnson powered his way inside, scored, and was fouled by DJ Sims, and the senior leader calmly canned the “and-one” with 2:17 left in OT, putting Evanston up 51-48.
On the ensuing possession, the Braves found Passey on a back cut for a finger-roll lay-up to make it 51-50 with 1:42 left in the extra period. Siemers had a chance to put Evanston up by three after being fouled by Battleson with 1:36 left, but one free-throw was halfway down before it popped back out, and the second attempt skimmed off the back iron.
Neither team would score again, though the Braves would have the last shot, calling a time-out to set up a play with 15.7 seconds remaining. Johnson drew the assignment of guarding the probable go-to Brave in Shinaver, and fouled the Braves’ leading scorer on the season, as he was set to make a move to the basket. It was a smart foul, as it was on the floor, and the Red Devils had one to give before the Braves would automatically go to the line. Star Valley was forced to inbound the ball with seven ticks left on the clock, and again went to Shinaver, with Johnson again shadowing him. Shinaver faked penetration and stepped back, firing a fall-away 13-foot jump shot for the win, which Johnson appeared to get a piece of, and a fingertip was enough to alter the shot. Evanston came down with the rebound as the horn sounded, securing the hotly-contested road victory.
The Herald’s preview on Friday mentioned the Braves as the top-ranked team in 3A, with the Red Devils the number-five ranked team in the division the two teams shared until last season, Class 4A. The preview also declared both teams were 4-2, but the Braves were actually 5-2, avenging a loss to the open their season in Montpelier, Idaho, against the Bear Lake Bears, 50-38. As pondered with the Lady Red Devils and Lady Braves, was it more advantageous for the Red Devils to perhaps be fresher, not having played since Dec.15, or was favor tipped towards the Braves, by having the opportunity to shake off the rust since Dec. 15, by taking on the Bears the night prior?
With the girls game, more than likely, advantage Star Valley, since they were not tested, winning handily. For the Braves, you could call it sixes, but the situation probably assisted Evanston, since Star Valley’s home game against Bear Lake was fairly close, with Star Valley winning by 12 on Dec. 27.
Coach Roy Barker, in his post-game interview, told the Herald that Star Valley was a great team, and “they’re the number one team in Class 3A for a reason.” Barker praised the Braves’ shooting prowess and his team’s good fortune.
“Tonight, I think they were a little off, hallelujah,” Barker said. “They weren’t hitting all their shots tonight. They hit some great shots, but I’m glad they were maybe just a hair to the left on some, because they can really shoot it, and they have a lot of weapons.”
When asked about Passey’s propensity to get up for and play especially well against Evanston, the coach gave his thoughts.
“He’s just a player whose motor never stops,” the coach said. “If he’s open, he shoots it; if he’s not, he makes a cut, sets a screen. He never quits, is well coached and fundamentally sound.”
But the coach did agree with the assessment that Passey loves to play Evanston and that the Red Devils had to counter Star Valley’s desire to get up and down the floor, to push Evanston into a more up-tempo game, to compensate for the height disadvantage, which is ordinarily an advantage for the Braves, when facing Evanston. He also alluded to Bradi Purcell and Austin Bowen being important factors on defense in the game coming up against Jackson, which does sport some height, especially in six-foot, five-inch post presence Joe Caesar, and with six-foot, three-inch wing player Tristan Shockley, the Broncs’ leading scorer.
The Braves will have their chance to even the score as Evanston’s special guest for the home-opening weekend on Jan. 11 and 12. Just like the Lady Red Devils, the 5-2 Red Devils play a Jackson team they swept last year, but the results are not available for the Saturday contest, with an early press deadline, with the Herald going to press about the time the two games are under way on Saturday.
The recaps from the Jackson games and a preview of the East-West Tournament in Riverton, Jan. 3-5, will appear in our Friday, Jan. 4 issue.