MERIDIAN—It has often been said that basketball is a game of runs.
In the opening round of the 3A state tournament, the Sugar-Salem boys took that to an extreme. After a tightly contested first half, the Diggers closed the game with a 32-4 onslaught as they cruised past Timberlake, 60-26, at Meridian High School.
Sugar-Salem (16-9) advances to Friday’s semifinals, where it will face Kimberly (20-3) at 6:15 p.m.
On Thursday, things were tightly contested in the early going. Sugar-Salem wasn’t bad on offense, but the Diggers struggled at the defensive end, allowing Timberlake to shoot 57 percent from the floor while Tigers’ senior Chase Gardom did damage with an impressive array of scoring moves.
The Diggers went into halftime leading 28-22, but coach Shawn Freeman was far from satisfied.
“You get in this environment and it can be difficult, even if you’ve been here before,” Freeman said. “There were some nerves, but we challenged our guys and I was happy with how they responded.”
Freeman’s halftime message worked. The Diggers were a different team after the break, swarming on defense and turning stops and takeaways into easy buckets at the other end. Sugar-Salem pitched a shutout in the third quarter, outscoring the Tigers 13-0 to take a commanding lead.
“Coach got us pretty fired up,” said sophomore Crew Clark, who led the Diggers with 11 points off the bench. “We started believing in each other and we really got after them and shut them down.”
The run extended into the fourth quarter, when Sugar outscored Timberlake 19-3 to continue pulling away. The Diggers limited the Tigers to just 10 second-half field goal attempts—and just two makes—while winning the turnover battle 18-3.
Sugar-Salem’s depth was a huge factor in the game. Tanner Harris scored 10 points, Brysen Barr had eight, Gerohm Rihari scored seven and three players — Hadley Miller, Brady Blaser and Kyler Hardy — chipped in six points apiece as 11 players played at least 11 minutes for the Diggers.
“Everyone has a big role to play, and we really buy into that,” Clark said. “We play such hard defense that we get tired fast, and then we bring in fresh bodies who can keep it rolling for us.”
Gardom finished with a game-high 15 points for Timberlake (9-15), which falls to the consolation round. Sugar-Salem continues its quest for a second 3A title in three seasons, with many of the same players who helped the Diggers capture a football championship this fall.
“This is a game we can build on,” Freeman said. “We weren’t great early, but we found our rhythm. Now it’s up to us to stay humble and keep bringing our A-game every night, because that’s what it takes to succeed at this tournament.”