Broncos win first state basketball title in 30 years with improbable comeback victory over Enterprise
by Rhett Sifford
Thirty years ago, way before any of the current San Juan High School boys basketball players were even a thought in their parents’ minds, the Broncos won their last Utah State basketball championship.
Their last championship, that is, until this past weekend at the Sevier Valley Center in Richfield when the kids who weren’t even a thought ran the table to win their first state championship since 1992.
This past Thursday through Saturday, February 24-26 they beat Rockwell, Rowland Hall, and Enterprise to claim the 2022 Utah 2A State Championship trophy.
They did in all three victories what they struggled to do during the regular season – come from behind.
No comeback win this past weekend was more dramatic or improbable than the show they put on in the championship-deciding game with third-ranked Enterprise.
And it couldn’t have been a more storybook finish for the Broncos. They dedicated their season to former assistant basketball coach Taylor Black following his passing in late July.
Taylor’s son, Jayden Black not only hit three huge three-point baskets to help his team catch Enterprise in the second half of the title game, he also calmly drained two free throws with 1.7 seconds remaining to seal the Broncos’ win.
Appropriately, he was named most valuable player of the tournament by the Deseret News. Ladd Ivins and Jensen Grover were also named to the All-Tournament Team.
Basketball is a team sport, and it’s hard to name just one MVP. Indeed, all the Broncos stepped up throughout the tournament to put together an impressive championship run.
Though San Juan fell behind in all three of their games at the Sevier Valley Center this past weekend, they had not trailed for almost an entire game like they did against Enterprise in the title game.
The teams traded the lead five times in the first quarter, but the Wolves were able to establish a second-quarter advantage that eventually grew to 11 points before San Juan reeled it back down to eight at halftime.
The Broncos did not lead from late in the first quarter until a Cooper Black coast-to-coast layup finally put them back up 43-41 with two minutes left to play. But that lead was short-lived.
Just 30 seconds later, Enterprise’s Dax Hunt drained a left-wing three to put the Wolves back on top 44-43. Then Enterprise went to work running out the clock.
They got it all the way down to 15 seconds remaining before a diving Jensen Grover fouled Brady Crouch to put the Enterprise sophomore at the line for a 1-and-1.
Crouch missed his foul shot, Cooper Black pulled down the rebound, and the Broncos ran the ball across the time line to call a timeout with just eight seconds left in the game.
That’s when the chess match began. Enterprise had three fouls to give before San Juan would earn the bonus and a trip to the line. So the Wolves began to foul the Broncos, not allowing them to run a play and taking valuable seconds off the clock.
Finally with 3.6 seconds left San Juan inbounded and Jayden Black quickly rose up for an 18-footer, getting the foul call and sending him to the line for two shots.
With ice in his veins, Black drained both shots. Enterprise inbounded in the back court and threw up a prayer at the buzzer. It fell way short, and San Juan bedlam erupted on the SVC floor.
Though Jayden Black was the hero, it took the entire team to climb the ladder and get back in the game after falling so far behind the Wolves. And the Broncos never once doubted they could do it.
A nine-point run by Ladd Ivins in the third quarter was instrumental in the comeback. He and Black teamed up to hit three triples apiece in the second half, the Broncos’ only threes in the game.
“Credit to these boys,” said San Juan Head Coach Travis Black following the exciting victory. “That never-say-die attitude that these players have had their whole lives, and we just couldn’t ask for a better ending – a storybook ending.”
With tears in his eyes, he spoke about what the state title means to the players, coaches, and community after the emotional roller coaster that it’s been for the past six months.
He said seeing Jayden put in the final two points of the game was one of the most amazing experiences the team has had this season. “We know Taylor was here with us,” he added.
Jayden Black donned his father’s beanie and raised a picture of his dad with he and his brother Justice during the team’s celebration with the state trophy.
“This is one of the best pictures of my dad that I have,” Jayden told the Deseret News. He explained that he grew up remembering he and his dad “loving basketball together.”
Talking about how he was so calm during those final two shots, Jayden said, “My dad taught me how to breathe right and calm my mind down.” In a very real way, a part of the Broncos’ basketball state championship trophy belongs to Taylor Black.
“That was the biggest team effort we’ve had all season,” said senior Cooper Black to the Deseret News. “We came out here and pulled it together in the second half. I just had to rely on my teammates.”
He’s exactly right. Just like they did all season, the players stepped up to help each other throughout the tournament in Richfield. Defense and rebounding were the keys, leading to offense when San Juan needed it.
In the quarterfinals against a speedy and unconventional attack from Rockwell, the Broncos fell behind by 12 in the second quarter and trailed through most of the third quarter.
But they stormed back to dominate the fourth and close out a 69-58 win over the eighth-ranked Marshals and earn an appearance against #4 Rowland Hall in the state semifinals.
Again San Juan fell behind the Winged Lions, but not by much and not for long. The Broncos took their first lead with two minutes left in the first quarter, and the teams went back and forth for the remainder of the half.
Entering the second half with a 22-18 lead, San Juan dominated, outscoring Rowland Hall 38-16 in the last two quarters on the way to a 60-34 final.
Throughout the weekend the Broncos overcame slow starts to come back and beat their opponents. Defense and rebounding were the key.
San Juan out-rebounded their opponents 101-78 at the tournament, highlighted by a 43-19 domination of Rowland Hall.
The Broncos shot 41.5 percent from the floor for the weekend – 50.5 percent from inside the arc and 29.2 percent from three-point range.
But they really got it done from the free throw line, shooting 77.1 percent. In fact, during the first half against Enterprise foul shooting was the only thing keeping them in the game.
Offensively, Jensen Grover came on strong to lead the Broncos in the last half of the regular season and he carried that through the state tournament, scoring 44 points in the three games to average almost 15 per game.
Ladd Ivins popped in 42 points (14 ppg), Cooper Black scored 32 (10.7 ppg), Jayden Black added 24 (8 ppg), and Jace Palmer got 21 (7 ppg).
The rebounding was spread evenly over the weekend. Cooper Black led with 18, Grover pulled down 17, Ivins had 16, and Jaden Black and Palmer had 15 apiece.
The second half rebounding effort of Jace Palmer and Cooper Black was absolutely huge in turning the tide when San Juan was struggling against Rockwell in the quarterfinal game.
Grover was an amazing 23 of 27 from the free throw line in the three games for 85.2 percent, including his 8-for-8 run in the first half against Enterprise which helped the Broncos stay in the game.
To go along with his 32 points, Cooper Black also assisted on 17 San Juan buckets at the tourney. Amazingly, Jensen Grover was right behind with 11 helpers in addition to his team-leading 44 points.