Las Vegas • Bountiful guard Sam Merrill snatched the inbound pass with four seconds left. The whistle blew for a timeout, but he continued down the court, stopping at the 3-point arc. He slammed the ball to the hardwood in frustration and shot. It clanked off the front of the rim.
Moments before, an El Camino Real (Calif.) guard had lifted into the air and hung there, and the ball he shot had gone through the hoop. It broke a tie game. Merrill’s off-balance 3 to tie after the timeout missed.
The 58-55 defeat was a shock to the system for a team that hadn’t previously lost a game this season. The players huddled in a dim hallway outside the gym, where they changed out of their game shoes and confronted the stark reality of a loss.
Coach Mike Maxwell compared it to last year’s Class 4A semifinals, when the Braves were ousted by a buzzer-beater from Sky View’s Jalen Moore.
Merrill spoke of being resilient and of learning. If the Braves can do both, he said, an ‘L’ on the schedule might not turn out to be much of a loss by the end of the season.
“Obviously, we want to win every game, but this is a good learning experience for us,” Merrill said. “That’s a good team, and we were right there, obviously. We just had some breaks, some calls that didn’t quite go our way. But this is good for us to learn our weaknesses.”
One thing Merrill said the Braves certainly learned was that they could compete with top talent. It was a clear answer to a question they’d traveled from Bountiful to the Tarkanian Classic to ask.
“That was a real good team and it’s probably not the best one here — probably not even close would be my guess,” Merrill said. “But it’s fun to come down here and know we’re up there with these kind of teams.
“We kind of know where we are. We’ll continue to work the rest of the tournament. We want to be good in December, but we want to be our best in March. That’s why this is such a good tournament for us.”