Kade DaBell sported a gray sweatshirt and a black backpack as he sauntered across the court, smiling as an armada of his Rigby supporters waited to celebrate with their hero. A loud bellow was the first greeting. Then, friends closer to his age mobbed him, forming a circle, jumping and chanting.
MVP. MVP. MVP.
At long last, DaBell emerged from the happy horde. He made his way over to the scorer’s table to receive a blue slip, a player of the game award from two broadcasters, who grinned as they handed DaBell a smaller prize for his Rigby team’s bigger one, a spot in the 5A state tournament with a 64-61 win over Thunder Ridge.
DaBell didn’t lead his team in scoring, posting 18 points, but he did lead his Trojans out of this 5A District 5-6 tournament finale and into state, the program’s third straight appearance.
He represented a key cog in last season’s team, but DaBell may cherish this trip more — one because this season his role ramped up, and two because these Trojans erased a 15-point deficit to top a Thunder Ridge team that had lost just four games all season.
“We never lost belief,” said DaBell, whose team will open the 5A tournament on Thursday against Boise. “That’s how we are, ever since we were little. We knew we could come back.”
Rigby also got 20 points from Karson Barber, who netted a key jumper in the fourth quarter, when the Trojans outscored the Titans 21-14, shooting 64% to Thunder Ridge’s 29%.
All told, the Trojans unseated the top-seeded Titans because they made defensive adjustments in the second half, which helped them win the final two quarters, 43-28. Rigby vacillated between man and zone looks, which kept Thunder Ridge guessing. Titans star guard Lloyer Driggs tallied 28 points, including a perfect 6-for-6 mark from the free-throw line in the fourth, but he failed to record a field goal in the final stanza.
That includes the final play, after Rigby forward Ethan Fox finished through contact for a and-one, but he misfired on the free throw. That left the door open for the Titans, who trailed by just three. In eight seconds, they would have to inbound from under their own basket and find a shot they liked.
Mission accomplished, according to Driggs. Tyler Godfrey, who registered seven points, inbounded to Driggs. He dribbled up the right side of the floor. A screen came, but he rejected it, roving over to the middle of the court. Two seconds left. Driggs raised up over the outstretched arms of a defender.
Off the heel. The ball caromed back into the middle of the lane. The buzzer sounded. Driggs stared straight at the basket, hands on the back of his head, wondering how on earth this season had come to such an abrupt end.
“I’m just in shock, to be honest,” Driggs said. “I didn’t expect it to end this early, but that’s how life is. That’s what makes the game of basketball so great. You never know what’s going to happen. The emotions are definitely all over the place.”
Those words proved prophetic because the game was, too. In the first half, the Titans used a 12-0 run to leap ahead by double digits. That stretch looked like this: Driggs floater, Tao Johnson and-one, Driggs jumper, Porter Harris triple, Driggs and-one on a driving scoop layup.
The Titans’ lead stretched to 15 when Driggs hit two free throws. The Titans took a 33-21 lead into the intermission.
That is when things began to unravel for the Titans.
Rigby used a series of free throws to draw within eight, but the run really began moments later, when DaBell finished on a floater, drew the foul and converted the free throw. Then, Trajen Larsen canned a triple, and Barber knocked down a jumper.
Rigby trailed by just two, 38-36.
Thunder Ridge did rebuild its lead in the third quarter, getting a triple from Nick Potter and two more baskets from Driggs, but the damage was done. Thunder Ridge led just 47-43 after three. The fourth would be close.
“I thought we slowed it down a little. We all started slowing down,” said Barber, who scored seven points on 3-for-3 shooting in the third period. “Started getting by, jump stopping, creating for each other and knocking down big shots.”
That they did. The Trojans clawed back within two on several occasions, including on that jumper from Barber. They tied it when DaBell sank two free throws at the 4:26 mark. They took the lead two minutes later, when DaBell pulled up from a foot behind the arc and splashed a triple, his second of the night.
From there, the closest the Titans got was one, when Driggs connected on two free throws, trimming the lead to 62-61 with 21 seconds to play.
On the other end, Thunder Ridge never fouled to stop the clock. The Titans paid for it when Fox got to the rim and finished through a foul, his 13th point of the game. What came next, the missed shot from Driggs, shocked just about everyone in attendance because it represented the conclusion of a season that, for months, looked destined for Nampa.
Instead, for Thunder Ridge, it ended here in Idaho Falls.
"Those guys were a part of something special," Thunder Ridge coach Lee Toldson said. "Helping build this program."
Driggs said he’ll miss a lot about this school, this team, the fans, the environment, the team dinners, the bus rides around an area of Idaho his team largely dominated all year.
This is the end for these Titans, but in his final moments on the court he called home for the last three seasons, Driggs harbored hope for the ones to come.
“We had a great culture here,” Driggs said. “Looking back on it, I think us seniors did a good job of setting the way. Hopefully, they can finish what we couldn’t do and go to state next year.”
RIGBY 64, THUNDER RIDGE 61
Rigby 5 16 22 21 — 64
Thunder Ridge 15 18 14 14 — 61
RIGBY — Kobe Jones 3, Trajen Larsen 9, Kade DaBell 18, Rysen Tyler 1, Karson Barber 20, Ethan Fox 13.
THUNDER RIDGE — Lloyer Driggs 28, Tao Johnson 10, Tyler Godfrey 7, Nick Potter 8, Bryson Hawkes 3, Jay Scoresby 2, Porter Harris 3.