As if things weren't going well enough for the West boys basketball team in its 75-31 win over Palmer in the first round of the Class 4A state tournament at the Sullivan Arena on Thursday, the defending champions were fortunate enough to hit a buzzer-beating 3-pointer at the end of the third quarter.
Junior guard Tyler Norman dribbled the ball across half court, glanced up at the clock and released a running shot off one foot. When it swished through the net, the Eagles held a 40-point lead.
The shot was significant, because a mercy rule goes into effect when a team gets a lead of 40 points after three quarters, creating a running clock.
"This is one of our best performances of the year," said West coach Brad Lauwers. "It was probably our most complete game."
West's Dominique Queen led all scorers with 24 points, hitting 4 of 6 3-point attempts. Kendall Brown also lit it up from long range, drilling 4 of 5 3-point attempts and finishing with 19 points. Devon Bookert used quick moves and a soft shooting touch to record 18 points.
Lauwers pulled his starters from the game for the majority of the fourth quarter, a situation he called ideal, because the extra rest will pay dividends today and Saturday.
The win advances West (16-4) to today's semifinals, where it will play the winner of Thursday's late game between Wasilla and Service.
If the Eagles win today, they will advance to Saturday's championship game, where they will meet the winner of today's other semifinal between Bartlett and North Pole.
If Bartlett reaches the final, the championship game will be a rematch of the Cook Inlet Conference championship game from earlier this month.
Brown said the Eagles were upset over the loss to Bartlett in the CIC championship game, and they talked about making a statement in the first round of the state tournament.
With a full-court press defense that made the Moose look lost at times, the Eagles sent a message, telling future opponents to be ready for a blistering pace.
West opened Thursday's game with a 13-7 run that Lauwers said got his players breathing really hard.
"I think it was the excitement of the game," he said.
Conditioning players to play three days of tournament basketball is a difficult task, said Lauwers, because game-conditions are so difficult to simulate in practice.
After a timeout midway through the first quarter, West went on a 13-2 run to close the period. West allowed Palmer to score 11 points in the second quarter, and then outscored the Moose 23-5 in the third quarter.
Palmer's Trey Fullmer led the Moose with nine points, and Jared Straight added eight points. Sean Niekamp battled in the paint for a team-high five rebounds.
Brown said it felt good to get the tournament underway on such a good note, but he didn't rank the game as one of the Eagles' best performances.
"We can do better," he said.
Bartlett 58, Kodiak 46: Damon Sherman- Newsome poured in 20 points and Trenton Anthony chipped in 15 to power Bartlett, with Sherman-Newsome hitting 7 of 13 field goals and Anthony nailing 3 of 7 from 3-point range.
Austin Frick's 15 points and Austin Cowley's nine points and eight rebounds paced Kodiak.
North Pole 51, Juneau 45: A.J. Scott and his teammates came through at the free throw line for North Pole, sinking 17 of 29 shots from the foul line to dispatch Juneau. Scott hit 8 of 12 free throws to take game scoring honors with 16 points.
Juneau outrebounded North Pole 42-35 and won the turnover battle, but a 22-10 foul discrepancy and 3 of 17 shooting from 3-point range doomed the Crimson Bears.
Service 72, Wasilla 50: Adam Klie was named player of the game for Service, netting 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting and pulling in a team-high six rebounds. Darren Muller contributed 13 points and five rebounds to the win, and Marques Robinson chipped in 13 points.
Wasilla’s Connor Devine finished with 18 points and 17 rebounds, earning player-of-the-game honors for the Warriors. Wade Stahle hit all four of his field-goal attempts to score 10 points.