East seniors Jarred Laws and Xavier Johnson each scored 17 points Thursday and the Thunderbirds collectively scrapped and hustled their way into the semifinals of the Class 4A boys basketball tournament with a 68-61 win over Palmer.
"It's a good moment for the seniors," Laws said "We're enjoying it."
Though the score was relatively close throughout, East's defense consistently made things difficult for the Moose and helped set up plenty of easy buckets at Sullivan Arena.
Johnson and his sophomore brother Desmond Johnson (nine points) repeatedly harassed the Palmer guards and came up with several key plays to help seal the win.
The brothers' biggest highlight came when Desmond made one of his team-high three steals near half court and flipped a no-look pass over his head toward a streaking Xavier. The wide open fast break looked like it might end with a dunk from Xavier, but he settled for a soft layup over the front of the rim to put East up 57-45 with just more than four minutes to play.
The Johnson brothers spend a lot of time talking about basketball after each game and scheming ways to improve, Desmond said, and that creates a bit of an extra special connection between them on the court.
"It's fun playing with him, my brother," Desmond said. "When he's open, he's open and when you see him you hit him."
Palmer senior Connor Looney led all scorers with 32 points on 10 of 22 shooting, consistently breaking East's defensive pressure and showing off a soft shooting touch from all over the court. Looney briefly left the game with a leg cramp in the final minute, but returned in time to bank in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with six seconds to play, making the score 66-61.
"We played our hearts out," Looney said. "There were key possessions we needed to take care of the ball and we didn't do that."
East, which finished second to Service in the Cook Inlet Conference tournament earlier this month, has had an up-and-down season, but East coach Josh Muelenkamp said he thinks the Thunderbirds put together a solid game Thursday.
Matthew Hardwick added 13 points for the Thunderbirds and Austin Huss contributed 12 points and a game-high eight rebounds
"First game in state for these kids and they played pretty well," Muelenkamp said. "They didn't rely on threes, they attacked the basket and when they play defense in a collective group, they can be pretty good in spurts."
Service 65, Dimond 46
In a rematch of last season’s state title game, top-seeded Service let eighth-seeded and defending champion Dimond hang around until halftime, but eventually put the hammer down in a 65-46 victory.
The Cougars, led by 22 points from Adam Klie, led from the outset and outscored Dimond 41-29 in the second half. Marques Robinson kicked in 20 points for Service and Amu Aukusitino scored 13.
Dimond’s Damon Cikanek knocked in 5 of 6 shots from beyond the arc to finish with 22 points and Payton Lauwers added 12.
West 57, Lathrop 55
The West Eagles survived a fierce Lathrop comeback to win 57-55, getting the winning basket from Theo Oghide with 1:35 remaining.
West led 41-30 at halftime, but the Malemutes turned things around with a 18-6 third quarter. Tremon Washington and Gabriel Cunningham combined for 15 points and Kyle Carlson buried a 3-pointer with four seconds to lift Lathrop to a 48-47 lead -- its first of the game -- going into the fourth quarter.
Oghide, a 6-foot-7 junior, finished with 16 points and eight rebounds and Markiss Ailey added 15 points and seven points for the Eagles. Seven players had steals for West, which harassed the Malemutes for 12 steals and benefitted from 20 turnovers overall.
Cunningham's 15 points and Washington's 13 led Lathrop.
Colony 60, Thunder Mountain 56
Colony's free throws warded off Thunder Mountain's 3-pointers in the final three minutes of Colony's thrilling 60-56 victory.
The Knights sank 11 of 12 free throws down the stretch, getting six from Joe Gray and four from Damien Fulp, to offset Thunder Mountain's 3 of 4 shooting from 3-point range.
Matt Seymour's trey for Thunder Mountain cut West's lead to 58-56 with five seconds left. The Falcons fouled Gray right away, and the senior guard hit both free throws to cement the win.
Gray pumped in a game-high 23 points, making all nine of his free throws and draining four of five from 3-point range. Fulp finished with 11 points and four assists, Hunter Eisenhower scored 13 points and Nathan Umbarger collected eight rebounds for Colony.
Seymour fueled the Falcons with 19 points and eight rebounds, Sam Jahn scored 13 points and Ben Jahn 10.
The game was decided at the foul line, where Colony was 20 of 22 and Thunder Mountain was 9 of 16.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335. Sports editor Beth Bragg contributed to this report.