West Valley Preps
For three quarters Tuesday, Peoria boys basketball made the more spectacular plays but could not shake their steady region and district rival Sunrise Mountain.
Then, in the first 90 seconds of the fourth quarter the home team broke free thanks to a bucket by junior guard Kaleb Brown, a free throw from junior post John Price and a corner three by sophomore guard Isaac Monroe. That expanded the lead to 56-43.
The Panthers finally could exhale, maintaining a double-digit lead from there and winning 72-57. Peoria (12-6, 2-0 region) passed the first hurdle in turning momentum from winning the Judy Dixon tournament at Greenway over to victories in the games that count.
“Our practices have changed since (winning the tournament). It’s a more focused, collectively mature approach. The guys are more together. I think it was a confidence builder and booster for them,” Peoria coach Will Roberts said. “It was clear that they carried it over, even though there was a lot of things I didn’t like they at least got the win. I want to give a shout out to Sunrise too, they were very disciplined. They have a great coach and a good program.”
While this team looks similar by the statistics to the middling 2016-17 squad, Peoria plays a more mature game. The rest of the starting lineup is growing up around senior wing Lahad Adehim.
Adehim led the home team with 17 points and eight rebounds Tuesday but had plenty of support. Monroe drained four treys, finishing with 16 points and six rebounds, while Brown chipped in 11 points.
And senior Knot Anyieth continues to grow into a mirror image of Adehim, a lengthy wing capable of defensive domination and spectacular plays in transition. Anyieth finished with 15 points, six rebounds and a couple of highlight-reel blocks.
“(Knot) is like our lion, almost. Our team responds to his energy. He blocks a shot from the weak side or makes these crazy plays or hits a timely three. He’s huge for us,” Roberts said. “I was a point guard in college so I’m going to continue to be tough on (the starting guards). It’s not easy to play for me. But they’re growing up and learning on the fly. It’s cool to see.”
Sunrise Mountain (9-9, 1-1) saw its top two scorers, senior forward Logan Shinaut and junior forward Grant Bell, head to the trainer’s room at the end of the first quarter — Shinaut with a twisted ankle and Bell with a shiner on his cheek.
Yet the Mustangs managed to hang around in the first half thanks to their ball movement and solid defense. Sophomore Tanner Mayer and junior forward Wesley Bennett stepped in as finishers inside, each scoring eight points before the break.
“I thought our guys played really hard. We just didn’t make any jumpers until probably the end of the third quarter,” Sunrise Mountain coach Gary Rath said. “Tanner, Wesley and Ryan Gray, all of our bigs played well I think. We’re shorthanded too. Two guys didn’t play tonight. I was pleased with how we battled, and I was concerned if we would do that. Would we stick our nose in there? They are physical and long — but we did (compete).”
Shinaut returned in the second quarter and came alive in the second half. He dueled with Monroe from long range, hitting three from outside the arc and finishing with a game-high 18 points.
Mayer added 14 points, but fouled out with about six minutes left in the game. That hurt, Rath said, but the play that knocked the visitors off course came before that late in the third.
Sunrise Mountain was down 46-43, the closest they had been since the opening minute, when Adehim missed a reverse layup. Yet he outfought two Mustangs for the rebound and was fouled. He made one of the free throws and Anyieth added a trey for a seven-point lead at the end of the quarter.
“We knew if we had to chase them we’d be in trouble. We kind of were in that five- to seven-point range all game before they went on the big run,” Rath said. “He missed the layup and we didn’t get the rebound. And that changed everything.”
Rath called Peoria the top dog in the West Valley Region right now, slightly ahead of defending champ Moon Valley. Roberts said his team needs make a priority of everything but the end goal.
“I’ve got to make sure they’re in class. They’ve got to eat right. They’re doing good in their classes. Then we practice and take a step-by-step approach. Hopefully, it leads to something they can be proud of at the end of the season,” Roberts said.