Evanstonís Matt Johnson steals the ball just before his game-winning layup against the Rock Springs Tigers Feb. 1. Photo by Heather Gifford
ROCK SPRINGS ó The Evanston Red Devils basketball team accomplished a couple of things more than just their 43-41 West 4A Conference win last Friday night, Feb. 1, over the Tigers in Rock Springs, thanks to the late-game heroics from their senior leader, Matt Johnson.
Number one, Evanston stole a conference win on the road, and number two, they kept pace with the Riverton Wolverines, for a share of the 4A West Conference lead, with a 4-1 record. Had the Red Devils faltered in a game that seemed destined for overtime, they would instead have been tied for second place, with both Casper Kelly Walsh and Rock Springs, at 3-2, with three of five of their remaining conference games to be played away from the friendly confines of their home gym.
The Red Devils went into the week with a 10-6 overall record, and a 3-0 conference mark, to face a 15-2 Wolverine team that had been upset the week prior by the Kelly Walsh Trojans, and sitting in second place in the conference standings, at 2-1. The Red Devils and Wolverines had a rare meeting on a Tuesday night for the first of two, in the home and home conference schedule. Riverton picked up a 63-54 win to set up a tie atop the conference standings, going into the weekend.
The completion of the weekend games represented the halfway point of the conference season for the 4A classification. Riverton had a relatively easy game scheduled against the Green River Wolves, winless in four tries in conference competition and, as expected, the Wolverines drubbed the Wolves, 70-34, in Green River.
At the midpoint, the standings look like this:
(Conference record listed first, then overall record)
Riverton Wolverines 4-1, 17-2
Evanston Red Devils 4-1, 11-7
Kelly Walsh Trojans 3-2, 9-9
Natrona County Mustangs
Rock Springs Tigers 2-3, 7-11
Green River Wolves 0-5, 4-13
The other side of the state shapes up this way:
(Conference record listed first, then overall record)
Gillette Camels 5-0, 15-2
Laramie Plainsmen 4-1, 14-3
Cheyenne East Thunderbirds 2-3, 5-12
Sheridan Broncs 2-3, 7-10
Cheyenne Central Indians
Cheyenne South Bison 1-4, 8-10
The most recent rankings from the WyoPreps.com Coaches and Media poll designated the Gillette Camels, in familiar territory, as the number-one team in the state, where they have been ranked the entire year, followed by Laramie, who again swapped positions with Riverton, to take over the number-two spot, with the Wolverines third, the Red Devils fourth, and the Casper schools tied for fifth.
Not much should change with this weekís voting results, although Laramie and Riverton could again change places, and the Trojans, with the win over their cross-city rival, should solidify their hold on fifth place, in solo fashion.
Evanston led 14-13 with one quarter in the books, behind seven points from shooting guard Jemini Leckie, coming on a deuce, a trey, and two-of-two shooting from the line. Sean Willmore paced the Tigers with four.
The two big guns for both teams, in terms of offensive firepower ó Matt Johnson for Evanston and Jordan Rood for Rock Springs ó the second- and third-leading scorers in the conference, respectively, were both held to three points, through not only the first quarter, but the first half; Johnson was averaging 17.6 per game, with Rood leading the Tigers with a 16.1 points per game average.
A defensive struggle ensued in quarter number two, with the two teams combining for just 11 points scored, in a game that featured 11 lead-changes and three ties. Anemic might best describe the Red Devilsí offense in the final eight minutes of the first half, with just one basket and shooting 2-4 from the free throw line, only able to muster four points in the second quarter, and trailing, 18-20, at the half.
Kade Lym led Evanston with 13, all coming in the third quarter, and within the first five minutes, connected on two buckets, two three-balls, and went 3-3 at the stripe, providing the instant offense Evanston direly needed. Lym went out early in the first quarter, after collecting his second personal foul, and sat the remainder of the first half.
Leckie, who finished with 12, wasnít far behind. After Leckie had forced six-foot, five-inch Rock Springs senior, Zach Legerski, the Tigerís second-leading scorer and leading rebounder, to ride the pine, collecting his second personal foul, Leckie picked up his second personal to do likewise, joining Lym on Evanston coach Roy Barkerís bench.
The Red Devils outscored the Tigers by 10 in the third, 16 to 6, and led 34-26 going into the fourth quarter.
Just as Evanston looked to be pulling away, the Tigers went on a run to first pull close, and then force the third deadlock. It started with a Tanner McQuillan three-point conversion, which cut the lead to five early in the fourth, with the Tigers keying on six or more Red Devils turnovers in the final five minutes.
A Rood bank-shot made it a single possession game, with 3:49 remaining, and the Tigers trailing 33-36. A free throw by Leckie put Evanston back up by four, with a Braxton Rosette score pulling the Tigers to within two. Leckie hit another free throw after being fouled while shooting, extending the lead back to three, 40-37, with 2:08 left. Two Rood free throws made the differential a single point, 40-39. Rock Springs would convert a couple of free throws on two back-to-back trips to the line, to keep it a separation of one, in between Matt Johnson hitting one of two free throws, making it 41-39, Evanston by two, and a McQuillan free-throw tied the game with 1:17 remaining.
A turnover gave the ball to the Tigers with 1:04 left to play. The Tigers called their final time-out with 14 seconds left. A Rood pass was knocked away and Matt Johnson outraced the Tigers defense to bank-in the winning lay-up. The clock expired before the Tigers could do anything.
Matt Johnson scored seven of his 10 and his teamís nine, in the final quarter, including the game-winner. Braxton Rosette paced the Tigers with 10. The Tigers finished with 12 field goals, two three-pointers and shot 11-18 from the free throw line for 61 percent, while committing 13 turnovers, unofficially.
The Red Devils had nine field goals to go along with four conversions from beyond the arc, and hit 13 of 22 free throws for 68 percent, ending with 19 turnovers.
Rock Springs ventures to Evanston on Feb. 22.
Evanston lost at Riverton on Tuesday night, 54-63, but the Wolverines were upset by Kelly Walsh on Jan.25. Riverton owns the tie-breaker, but the Wolverines still have to play at Evanston in the final game of the conference season Feb. 23. The Red Devils play their next three on the road, beginning with Natrona County and Kelly Walsh on Friday night, Feb. 8, and Saturday afternoon, Feb. 9, in Casper.
No. 1 Gillette won in the Razor City over Sheridan, 77-70, with No. 2 Laramie picking up a pair of home wins over Cheyenne Central, 57-43, and Cheyenne East, 74-54. Cheyenne South also trounced Cheyenne East, 80 to 54. Tied for fifth, Kelly Walsh bombed Natrona County by 20, 47-27. Rocks Springs defeated Green River 51-40 on Thursday night.
Elsewhere, Class 3Aís second-ranked Lyman Eagles won by a bakerís dozen over the 2A Kemmerer Rangers, 60-47, on Thursday, but were surprised by Lander Valley Tigers at home on Saturday, in conference play, 60-46, with the Eaglesí lineup depleted due to illness.
Mountain View and Lyman both travel to Park County to do battle with the Powell Panthers and the Cody Broncs in 3A West Conference competition this Friday and Saturday, Feb. 8 and 9.
Rich County sits atop the Region 21 standings, with a 5-1 mark, and an 11-5 record for the season. The Rebels defeated the Altamont Longhorns, 58-40, behind 17 from John Acree. The Rebels host the Duchesne Eagles on Friday at 7 p.m.