It was far from the best performance of the season for the Perry basketball program Friday night in the Open Division semifinals.
The Pumas were plagued with fouls, turnovers and struggled to hit shots that would normally go in with ease from the floor. But they never panicked, even as Desert Mountain closed the gap to two points at one point late in the first half.
The Pumas regrouped, continued to wear down the Wolves and took control in the fourth quarter. They went on to beat Desert Mountain 64-50, and now move on to play for the first-ever Open Division state championship.
“Composure this time of year, there’s no easy ones,” Duane said. “We’ve taken everybody’s challenge all year and we responded all year. We’ve gotta do it one more time.”
From the opening bucket of the game, Perry never relinquished its lead.
The Pumas tried to start fast and put the Wolves away early, but Desert Mountain answered throughout the first half to always stay within striking distance. Freshman guards Kaden and Kalek House knocked down buckets and set up teammates for shots. The Wolves also managed to make their way into the lane on several occasions for uncontested and contested layups.
But even as momentum appeared to shift to Desert Mountain’s favor, Perry never panicked. Sophomore forward Koa Peat began to dominate the boards and senior guard Cody Williams, who struggled with turnovers, became a facilitator for others to step up.
Senior guard Ben Egbo crashed the boards. Sophomore wing D’Andre Harrison, too.
But sophomore guard Nono Brown may have played one of the biggest roles of the night, knocking down one 3-pointer to increase Perry’s lead and another just before the halftime buzzer.
“Nono was huge tonight,” Duane said. “Early he played great minutes for us. Guys step up, they step up and they want to win and they don’t care who it is.”
The third quarter brought much of the same for the two teams. They traded blows at each end of the floor before Perry found some breathing room by the start of the fourth.
That’s when Williams and Peat took over.
Desert Mountain went cold from the field and Perry capitalized. Peat once again dominated with key rebounds at both ends while Williams found his way into the lane.
At one point, a Barron Silsby 3-pointer put Perry up 14, it’s biggest lead of the night. A few minutes later on a fast break, Peat was on the receiving end of an alley-oop he put down on the head of a Desert Mountain defender. It sent the Perry crowd into a frenzy, and officially out the game out of reach.
“It was game over after that,” Williams said of Peat’s dunk. “It was a huge play, a huge momentum shift.”
Perry’s ability to step up defensively was key, according to Duane, Williams and Peat. All year the trio felt like the Pumas were overlooked on defense, mostly because of their firepower on the offensive end of the court.
They wanted to prove they could limit the House twins Friday night. And even though Kaden finished with 20 points and Kalek 13, they did enough in the final quarter to put the game out of reach for good.
“Playing defense and rebounding, that was key,” Peat said. “It really starts on defense and we played good. It feels great.”
Peat finished with a team-high 21 points. He also corralled double-digit rebounds. Williams added 14 points of his own, while Egbo had 9 and Brown 8.
Perry, the top-ranked team in the state all season and No. 20 nationally, will now face Sunnyslope for the Open Division state championship on Saturday, March 4 at Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum at 5:30 p.m. The Vikings knocked off Basha Friday night in the other Open semifinal game.
While excited, it’s still all business for Perry. The Pumas recognize they have a chance to make history not only by winning back-to-back championship after last year’s 6A title win, but to become the first team to win the Open.
“It feels pretty dang good,” Duane said. “But our focus has always been to win that one. We like it but we’re not satisfied. Our goal is to win.”
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