Idaho Falls is headed back to the boys’ basketball state tournament, courtesy of a back-and-forth; grind it out victory over Hillcrest on Saturday night in the 4A District 6 championship game.

The Tigers (17-5) had beaten Hillcrest twice during the regular season and averaged 73 points in the victories. But the Knights (9-14) slowed the pace from the opening tip on Saturday, forcing Idaho Falls to adjust and temper its transition game. The strategy worked until midway through the second half when the Tigers built a double-digit lead and eventually held off the Knights 53-43.

“I thought we handled that really well,” said Tigers guard Kalvin Bowen, who finished with 17 points and four rebounds. “Coach (Howard) Hart knew that sometime we would have a team try and slow it down, but we just had to keep our composure and I thought we did really well.”

Idaho Falls led just 23-18 at the half and just 28-25 after Hillcrest senior Bryce Cook knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key and was fouled with 3:44 left in the third quarter. Cook hit the free throw. Garrett Freed followed with a 3-pointer as the Knights tied the game.

But that proved the last highlight for Hillcrest as Idaho Falls responded with a 12-0 run that all but sealed the game. A spinning layup by Bowen and a rash of Idaho Falls free throws kept the Knights in check.

“They made some adjustments to the way they played so that made it a little more difficult to get out and run,” Hart said. “Their patience in the first half was good for them in keeping the game close. I thought our kids kind of played right through it. No matter what type of tempo it was going to be, I felt our kids were ready to step up and match whatever the challenge was.”

The Knights kept the game close by hitting five 3-pointers in the second half. Hillcrest would finish with eight 3-pointers for the game, but the Tigers won the battle of consistency, connecting on 60 percent of their shots for the game. Idaho Falls also took advantage inside with 20 points in the paint.

“We knew we had to step it up,” Bowen said of the team’s second-half surge. “We were playing a little slow. We were letting them get open looks, so we just had to play better. We’re used to playing in transition so at first it does bother us a little bit, but we usually get back in our groove.”

Kyle Austin led Hillcrest with 17 points and also had a team-high three assists. Cook finished with 13 points.

Braxton Ball scored 13 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Tigers.

IDAHO FALLS 53, HILLCREST 43

Hillcrest 10 8 10 15- 43

Idaho Falls 8 15 15 15 -53

HILLCREST (43) – Parker Boyle 4, Garrett Freed 6, Kyle Austin 17, DakotaYorgesen 3, Bryce Cook 13. FG: 13. FT: 9-12. 3-POINTERS: 8 (Boyle, Freed 2, Austin 2, Yorgesen, Cook 2). TOTAL FOULS: 19. FOULED OUT:

IDAHO FALLS (53) – Kalvin Bowen 17, Braxton Ball 13, Andrew Gregersen 7, Paul Wilson 7, Jackson Sorenson 2, Kenyion Clark 4, Cam Conrad 3. FG: 18. FT: 17-26. 3-POINTERS: 0. TOTAL FOULS:12. FOULED OUT: None.

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