MERIDIAN – The Snake River Panthers rode the broad shoulders of Jacoby Johnson and his 25 point performance to a 56-49 semi final victory over the Weiser Wolverines on Friday night.
“I thought that I had a bad game on Thursday night and I just wanted to come out and play like I know that I can,” Johnson said. “I took the advice of my coaches and just took the ball to the hole. My teammates did a great job of giving me great passes and with teammates like I have its pretty easy.”
Weiser came out in a half court press look and the Panthers were ready for it as time and time again they worked the ball into the middle of the court where Wyatt Wray would turn and then attack the basket and on most occasions, that led to an easy bounce pass to Johnson on the baseline for a lay up.
“That’s what we wanted to do, get the ball into the middle of that trap and Wyatt did a great job of turning and attacking,” Snake River head coach Robert Coombs said. “We wanted to take it inside right at number 54 (Drew McKie) because we knew that he is a good player but we felt that we had the size to compete with them inside.”
That attacking style led to an 18-11 lead with just under a minute remaining in the first quarter but after that, turnovers reared their ugly head and the Panthers went cold from the field.
Those two factors led to a dismal second quarter that witnessed the Panthers scoring just one basket from the field for a grand total of four points in the quarter. Despite that, Snake River continued their solid defensive effort and as the two teams headed to the locker room, Snake River trailed by just three at 25-22.
“We started settling for jump shots instead of attacking the hole in that second quarter,” Coach Coombs said.
On the opening possession of the second half Snake River tied the game at 25-25 courtesy of a three ball off the fingertips of Shane Parkinson. Back and forth the two teams then battled throughout a third quarter that eventually came to a close with a dramatic three point shot that was banked in by Brad Coombs as the buzzer sounded, lifting the Panthers to a 40-35 lead.
“We stressed the importance of attacking the basket and valuing the basketball at halftime and I thought that we did a better job of doing both of those things in the second half,” Coach Coombs said.
The momentum from the third spilled over into the fourth as Snake River eventually built a commanding 53-40 lead with just over a minute remaining. Weiser did make a little run down the stretch to pull to within five points but in the end it was far too little and much too late as the Panthers advance to today’s 3A state title game.
“It’s amazing,” Johnson said. “I’ve been wanting and dreaming of playing in a state championship game since I was five years old.”
For the Panthers, who have been to the state tournament in 8 straight seasons, today’s championship game will be the first since a state title in the 2005-06 season.
“I have a bunch of third place trophies and I’m a little tired of them,” Coach Coombs said. “It’s nice to get back to the Idaho Center and play for a championship.”
When the game tips off at 3:50 today, the Panthers will be facing a familiar foe as they battle the defending 3A champion Fruitland Grizzlies. The last time the two schools met on the athletic field, Snake River won a state football title. The last time the two schools met on the basketball court, Fruitland won a semi final game in last years state tournament.
WEISER 15 10 10 14 – 49
SNAKE RIVER 18 4 18 16 – 56
Weiser (49) – Brock Bumgarner 2, Tyler Hemphill 6, Derrick Reyes 6, Issac Zanelli 16, Elias Daniel 4, Drew McKie 15. FG: 21/43. FT: 1/3. 3-pointers: 4/9 (Zanelli 2, McKie 2). Rebounds: 23 (McKie 8). Fouls: 18. Fouled out: (none).
Snake River (56) – Jacoby Johnson 25, Cooper Peterson 4, Cole Rushton 9, Brad Coombs 6, Shane Parkinson 4, Wyatt Wray 8. FG: 20/47. FT: 11/24. 3-pointers: 5/10 (Peterson, Rushton 2, Parkinson). Rebounds: 34 (Wray 12). Fouls: 10. Fouled out: (none).