Saturday’s cross-county slugfest between the Evanston and Lyman boys’ basketball teams featured a little bit of everything: Multiple lead changes, timely 3-pointers, a momentum-changing dunk and tenacious defense by both sides.
When the dust finally settled in Red Devil Gymnasium, the home team found themselves in the win column for the first time this season, outlasting the scrappy but undersized Eagles, 43-37. The win snapped an 0-7 start to the 2020-21 campaign, and marked the second time in two years that Evanston’s first victory came at the expense of their Uinta County rivals.
“It feels good — I was excited for our team, and our program,” said EHS head coach Rob Watsabaugh, who picked up his first win at the helm of the program. “We did some things right to help us get to that point, and I think our guys also understand that we still have some improvements to make to reach our potential.”
The Red Devils jumped out to a 5-0 lead to start the game, though Lyman cut the lead to two at 10-8 at the end of one. Evanston created some separation in the second quarter, and went into the half with a 23-17 lead.
“Early on against Lyman, we wanted to take advantage of our size with Braxton [Lind] and Wade [Bowen],” Watsabaugh said. “When we got the ball inside, that opened up the perimeter for Jagger [Mitchell] and Burke [Thomas] to hit shots. That was good — it made the defense collapse a little bit, and that helped our guards out.”
The Eagles went on a 7-0 run to start the third, eventually building their lead to six at 31-25. But with time winding down in the quarter, a 3-pointer by Junior Zermeno and a dunk by Red Devil big man Wade Bowen — who missed on his first dunk attempt of the game just minutes before — proved to be the spark Evanston needed. Bowen’s play knotted the game at 31-31.
“Everyone loves to celebrate a big dunk — Wade [Bowen] has the confidence, he knows he can do it,” Watsabaugh said. “He didn’t shy away from it the second time, and we need that presence from him — a little bit of a spark. Using his size and athleticism, I expect him to have one or two of those every single night.”
The two teams traded scores for much of the final frame, with the Red Devils gaining an edge in the game’s final minutes. Evanston held Lyman scoreless for the final three minutes of the contest, and didn’t allow the Eagles an offensive rebound in the entire fourth quarter, holding on for the 43-37 win.
“I think balance-wise, we were a little bit better — we handled their press well, and were able to advance the ball,” Watsabaugh said. “Coming down the stretch, we didn’t seem rattled. And I believe Lyman didn’t get an offensive rebound in the fourth quarter, which was a challenge I made to our guys after the third quarter. They stepped up, and rebounded the ball well.”
Evanston senior Jagger Mitchell paced the Red Devils with 13 points, hitting on 3-of-5 shots from behind the arc; he also pulled down five rebounds, and led the team in steals with three.
“Getting this win at home means more than anything,” Mitchell said after the game. “Getting off to a slow start makes it even sweeter. But I think this win gives us a taste of victory that trumps anything else. We are gonna do whatever it takes to get that again.”
Bowen and Burke Thomas followed with eight points apiece, while Braxton Lind and Zermeno chipped in six each. Lind also pulled down five rebounds.
“For me personally, staying out of foul trouble late was great, but our defense in particular is what stood out to me,” Lind said. “To hold a team to what we did with zero offensive rebounds in the fourth and not giving them second-chance buckets was huge.”
Bowen led the team in rebounds with 10 to go along with a pair of blocks; Thomas dished off a team-high six assists.
“We were sharing the ball really well, trying to find the best shot for our team,” Watsabaugh said about his team’s performance. “I thought it was good, balanced scoring — it wasn’t just one or two players with a good line on the state sheet. If we continue sharing the ball like that, we’ll be fine. We need to have that consistency in our roster, as far as putting the ball in the hoop.”
Mountain View 46,
Red Devils 45
Evanston’s Bridger Valley adventure began on the road Friday at Mountain View, with the Red Devils losing in a wild finish, 46-45.
Evanston senior Burke Thomas was responsible for the bulk of the Red Devils’ scoring, netting 21 points in a losing effort, including 4-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc.
“Mountain View is a pretty good team,” Watsabaugh said. “They’re well-rounded. I thought they took advantage of us on defense inside and in the paint. No. 10 [Caden Sweep] had 26, or 28 points, and there are some things we should have adjusted to quicker and better defensively.”
Evanston got off to a promising start, building a 15-7 lead in the first quarter. Mountain View settled into a groove in the second quarter, however, outscoring the Red Devils 18-10 to bring the game back to even at the break, 25-25. Thomas and Jagger Mitchell finished the half with nine points and six points, respectively, followed by five from Carson Wall.
Evanston regained the upper hand in the third, outscoring the Buffalos 12-10 to take a 37-35 lead. The Buffalos responded with an 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter, taking a seven-point lead, 46-37. Back-to-back shots by Thomas — including a 3-pointer — finally stopped the run, and cut Mountain View’s lead to four, 46-42.
With 1:37 to play in regulation, Red Devil big man Wade Bowen was fouled underneath the basket, setting up a 3-point play. He converted the free throw to cut the lead to one at 46-45. Evanston had a chance to win with 12 seconds left, when Thomas — setting up the game’s final shot — got tangled up with a Mountain View player at the top of the key, hitting the ground and losing the ball. Realizing a foul call wasn’t coming, an alert Wall picked up the ball and put up a shot for the win with three seconds on the clock; the shot didn’t fall, and the Buffalos escaped with a 46-45 win.
“I told our team, ‘We may think that last possession cost us the game, but there were a ton of other possessions that led us to that point,” Watsabaugh said. “Burke picked up his dribble and tried to pivot, and he had a guy right on him. That’s a tough call for the official to make, and we didn’t get the shot we were looking for, so credit to Mountain View’s defense for slowing us up, and not letting us get to where we wanted to execute for our shot.“
Bowen was the only other Red Devil in double figures, netting 10 points, to go along with five rebounds. Mitchell hit three 3-pointers to finish with nine points, while Wall rounded out the scoring with five. Mitchell dished off a team-high five assists, followed by Thomas with three.
“Offensively, Mountain View’s zone gave us some trouble,” Watsabaugh said. “We tried to make some adjustments, but I think we made them too late. But we hung in there, and we did have the last possession — we just didn’t get the shot we wanted.”
The Red Devils will open conference play at home Thursday, welcoming in Green River.
“Green River is a well-balanced team,” Watsabaugh said, “They have a young four-man [Dylan Taylor] who plays inside-out for them — I think he’s averaging 17 points a game. They have some experienced guards. We want to correct some of our mistakes before we move on to them.”
Asked what that would entail, Watsabaugh said the answer is simple.
“I’m going to keep hammering the point that we have to take care of the ball,” he said. “We have to continue to block out and rebound. Against Lyman, we didn’t do a great job of staying in front of the basketball off the bounce, and Green River has some guards that will attack the basket off the bounce. We need to continue to get better on that end of the floor.”