Orem • The ball and perhaps one team’s season hung in the air, everything riding on its final destination. It clanked on the rim, falling away, into the hands of a waiting American Fork player. But it was too late. The buzzer had blared.
The five Lone Peak players on the court rushed to the Knights’ large student section, and the bench and cheerleaders weren’t far behind. The cacophony ringing the court rose, contrasting the dejected Cavemen, who slumped back to their bench, a goal perhaps now out of reach.
The Knights escaped the Cavemen’s comeback with a 52-51 win Friday at Utah Valley University, pulling through when it mattered in an unfamiliar situation — a close in-state game.
“Coach [Quincy] Lewis has put us through those situations lots in practice, so we know what to do,” said Knights star guard T.J. Haws, who scored 17 points and the game’s deciding free throws. “We were calm and I think it showed.”
It was a physical game throughout, but the action started in earnest late in the fourth, when the Cavemen finally cut into a steady Knights lead. The large American Fork student section jumped and jeered as their team inched closer.
An and-one on a layup from Ryan Andrus with 10 seconds left finally gave the Cavemen a lead. They were in a position few Utah teams have been in since they last beat the Knights, in the 2011-2012 season.
But American Fork fouled Haws as he took the inbound past midcourt. The senior star made both free throws, putting the Knights back up by one. The game’s final play put the crowd into a frenzy and sent the Knights home winners yet again.
“That mentality has got to be, ‘They’re going in,’ ” Haws said of his free throws. “I’ve been there before when I was a freshman. In the gym you imagine those things — a lot of fans, down one, two free throws. It was fun.
“I was telling these guys with 10 seconds left, ‘Hey, this is what we’re here for. This is why you play basketball. It’s for these situations.’ ”
The hopes American Fork had of halting the Knights’ years-long march through Region 4 were likely ended, as it dropped to three games back in the standings. The Knights now have just four games left to wrap up yet another region title.
“It was a fun game,” Lewis said. “Obviously when you win it’s more fun, but that’s just a heck of a game from both sides.”
O T.J. Haws’ two free throws with 10 seconds left lifts Lone Peak to victory.
• The Cavemen overcome a fourth-quarter deficit to take the lead late but it wasn’t enough.
• Frank Jackson leads the Knights with 18 points.