It’s a virtue and a great game plan to win playoff games if you can execute it.
The 11th-seeded Gilbert Tigers used patience for most of Thursday night and led by the guiding play of point Anthony Bryant and the inside game of towering Truman Moore as the Tigers got past No. 22 Desert Vista 66-53 in the first round of the boys state Division I basketball tournament.
“We knew what we had to do and we did that the whole game,” Bryant said. “They got a little run but that’s basketball. We stuck with it, calmed down at the end and pulled out a win.”
The darkhorse contender travels to No. 6 Chaparral for a round of 16 game on Saturday at 7 p.m.
“The guys know their roles pretty well,” Gilbert coach Jay Caserio said. “So they’ve bought into whatever role there is and it helps to have a point guard like Anthony. When you can put it in a guy’s hands and he is going to take care of the basketball and get the ball where it needs to be, it’s easier for all of the other guys to do their jobs.”
The Tigers (22-7) sputtered a bit out of the gate, turning the ball over and allowing the Thunder some open looks. But Gilbert settled down and outside of Desert Vista’s fourth-quarter barrage of 3-pointers that cut the lead to single digits, kept its constant pace to hold off the Thunder.
“I’m very shocked right now,” Desert Vista coach Dave Williams said right after the final buzzer. “We had great practices and I thought we would have played a lot better than that tonight.”
Caserio said the plan was to look for the high-percentage shot, trying to work the ball inside to the 6-foot-8 Moore against the smaller Thunder. While Desert Vista tried to push the tempo, using a press and even a modified zone defense at times, the Thunder couldn’t break the Tiger plan. Desert Vista guard Greg Carter, who averages 14 points a game, didn’t get a basket all night and had just two points, free throws with 1:55 left and the game long since decided.
“We like to put it in Truman’s hands in the post because we had the size advantage,” Bryant said. “But we just looked to swing the ball around and get it inside.”
Moore finished with 19 points and the Tigers hit 10-of-12 free throws in the final four minutes to close out the win. Bryant added 15 and Connor Helvig 12 for Gilbert. And the Tigers get a little revenge after losing to the Thunder in the quarterfinals a year ago.
“We didn’t want to run with Desert Vista,” Caserio said. “They knew we wanted to push because we felt like we could get some good shots in space if we pushed it but at the same time there is that fine line that when, is there a semi-contested shot and if there is then you need to get it back out and run offense. And I think they did a really good job at that tonight.”
Not that Desert Vista (14-13) didn’t make one last run.
Down 44-25 going into the final quarter, David Powell and Kyle Pitman (14 points) hit 3-pointers in the first minute of the fourth. Caserio quickly called time out.
But the Thunder forced a 5-second call on the ensuing in-bounds play. Tyler Dunker hit another 3 for Desert Vista and the Thunder had life.
But point guard Greg Carter picked up his fourth foul a short time later, putting Gilbert into the double bonus and the Tigers started making free throws. Desert Vista pressed but Gilbert broke through, getting a couple of easy dunks by Moore as a result.
The Thunder's Avery Brunson (11 points) hit back-to-back long shots for Desert Vista to cut the lead to 52-44 with 4:07 left. The Thunder, however, could get no closer as they tried to foul to stop the clock and Gilbert hit six straight foul shots to open up a 14-point lead.
“We just didn’t play hard enough to get it done,” Williams said. “But I’m proud of my guys. They stuck with it when we went through some adversity and we made it to the state playoffs.”
Bravo is a Southeast Valley freelance writer.