Broncos have state title in their sights, but fall just short, 54-50
After a raucous celebration at mid-court in the Sevier Valley Center following their upset win over Grantsville in the state semifinals, it settled in that the San Juan would be making their first trip to a state basketball championship game in more than two decades.
When number two-ranked Juab took care of Judge Memorial 58-52 less than two hours after the Broncos vacated the SVC floor, the 2021 3A state title game was set.
The Wasps had entered the tournament with an 18-3 record and came through South Summit, Richfield, and Judge Memorial to reach their championship date with the Broncos.
The teams did play each other this season prior to their meeting this past weekend. The Wasps beat San Juan at the Steve Hodson Cancer Classic on December 28 in Cedar City 61-43.
The title game on Saturday, February 27 began as a tight, back-and-forth battle. Juab opened a 6-2 lead and San Juan battled back to tie midway through the opening period.
But at that point, the Wasps began a 20-5 run that stretched through the midpoint of the second quarter, and the Broncos found themselves down 26-11.
Undaunted and in familiar territory, the comeback kids from Blanding mounted a 9-0 run of their own that pulled them to within six with just over a minute remaining in the half.
Both teams added a bucket before the buzzer sounded, and they went into their respective locker rooms with 28-20 showing on the scoreboard.
The Broncos continued to bring the fight to Juab in the third quarter, but the Wasps kept San Juan at arm’s length for most of the period.
Late in the quarter, the Broncos got a couple of key scores, including another clutch three from Cooper Black that cut the Juab lead to one in the final 30 seconds.
But a strong drive to the basket by Jakob Bailey in the waning seconds increased the Wasp lead to three headed into the final frame.
The fourth quarter was exactly as a state championship game should be – up-and-down action with the teams answering each other blow for blow.
San Juan kept the pressure high, but the Wasps never caved. They held the lead – by one point for the majority of the quarter – until the final minute.
Over the next 45 seconds, Juab rebuilt a five-point advantage. But with 15 seconds remaining in the game, Jayden Black drained a corner three to pull the Broncos to within two.
San Juan was forced to foul on the Wasp inbound play, and when Ty Allred missed the back end of his free throws, the door was left open for San Juan to attempt a buzzer-beating three to tie.
But Jensen Grover’s full-court pass to Jayden Black was deflected by an impossibly outstretched Allred as he retreated into the San Juan forecourt. The ball then bounced off Black’s hand out of bounds, giving possession back to the Wasps with eight seconds to go.
The Broncos had to foul on the Juab inbound once again, and one free throw was enough to put it out of reach in the final seconds as the Wasps held off a Bronco comeback for a 54-50 state championship win.
It was a gut-wrenching loss for San Juan, but their performance on the biggest 3A basketball stage opened many eyes and proved that they belong with some of the best the State of Utah has to offer.
Ultimately, it was the tough mid-first quarter through mid-second quarter that doomed the Broncos, and their comeback streak which had served them so well was stretched past the breaking point.
It was their coldest shooting night of the tournament. The Broncos hit just 17 of 45 shots for 38 percent. Conversely, the Wasps shot 51 percent from the floor in the game.
San Juan was four of 12 from three-point range for 33 percent. As they had been all season and for most of the tournament, they were strong from the free throw line, going 12 of 15 for 80 percent.
Nate Grover led scoring in the tough loss with 12 points, Jace Palmer got 11, Jensen Grover dropped in ten, Ladd Ivins and Jayden Black scored six each, and Cooper Black rounded out the scoring with five points.
For the tournament, San Juan shot 57 of 141 from the floor for 40 percent.
They were an impressive 20 of 48 from three-point range for 42 percent and 38 of 58 from the free throw line for 66 percent. And they out-rebounded their opponents 93-79.
Ladd Ivins led the Broncos individually with 37 points (12.3 ppg) and six three-point buckets. Jensen Grover scored 35 points (11.7 ppg) and six threes.
Cooper Black ended the weekend with 29 points (9.7 ppg) and four threes for San Juan. Jace Palmer got 27 points (9.0 ppg) and one trey.
Nate Grover contributed 24 points (8.0 ppg) to the San Juan state title bid, and Jayden Black rounded out the scoring with 20 (6.7 ppg), which included a trio of threes.
Nate Grover led Bronco rebounding with 23 boards, Palmer pulled down 17, Jensen Grover got 16, and Jayden Black collected 13.
Ivins and Palmer assisted on five baskets apiece. Jayden Black, Nate Grover, and Cooper Black had four assists each; and Jensen Grover picked up three assists.
Defensively, Nate Grover and Palmer stole the ball four times apiece; Jayden Black got two steals; and Cooper Black, Ivins, and Jensen Grover got one takeaway each. Nate Grover had five blocks in the tournament. Palmer, Cooper Black, and Ivins got one apiece.
According to Coach Black, the second-place finish has galvanized his already tough team. The returning Bronco players are more determined than ever to bring a state basketball title back home to Blanding in 2022.
Black said the experience at the state tournament was invaluable for his players, none of whom had ever seen a state championship game at the Sevier Valley Center, much less played in one.
The Broncos return no less than four starters next season – five if you count Jayden Black, who started several games this season.
San Juan will also drop to 2A once again in 2021-22 but, despite his team’s performance this year, Coach Black is not expecting a cakewalk to a state championship.
What an amazing, improbable season it was for the San Juan Broncos boys basketball team. They never doubted themselves, and proved to the entire state that they belonged right where they were.
Be on the lookout for a complete San Juan High School winter sports recap in the San Juan Record.Redrock Radio featured an interview with Coach Black on March 3. Listen to the podcast on Redrock92.com.