Burkhart powers Firth over Melba, 59-37

BOISE -- Firth sophomore Connor Burkhart exited the locker room Thursday night with a pair of headphones dangling around his neck. He wasn't listening to anything.

"My phone's dead so I've got these on so I look cool," Burkhart joked as he showed his headphones weren't connected.

Burkhart looked cool on the court as his 23 points and 11 rebounds powered the top-ranked Firth Cougars past the Melba Mustangs, 59-37, in the first round of the boys 2A state basketball tournament.

Firth (17-4) advances to the semifinals and will face Grangeville at 8 p.m. tonight.

The Cougars took advantage of its decisive height advantage and employed a relentless defense to dispense Melba.

"I thought (Melba) had some quick guards and good shooters," Firth coach Scott Adams said. "We had a height advantage but it goes both ways with mismatches. We wanted them to worry about us and what we were doing and shoot hurried shots when they were on offense."

The strategy worked for Firth, which held Melba to 35 percent shooting from the floor.

"We spend so much of our time in practice working on defense," Burkhart said. "And when everything is working right, we get plenty of lay ups and put backs."

Hardly anything went wrong for the Cougars in the early going as they raced out to a 22-9 lead in the first quarter. Firth's first 16 points came in the paint before Burkhart and Braydon Adams each hit a 3-pointer to close out the quarter. The 3-pointer by Burkhart was only his third of the season.

Staked to a 31-16 lead at halftime, Firth pulled away in the third quarter by breaking Melba's press and scoring several lay ups in transition. The Cougars took a 49-27 into the fourth quarter before salting away the victory.

Last season, Burkhart watched the state tournament from the bench. But this season, he appears to be primed to help Firth make a run at the title.

"I feel like every team plays their best game of the season against us," said Burkhart, whose extended family came from as far away as Pennsylvania to watch him play in the state tourney. "I think it only makes us better. Our expectations from the beginning of the season was to win a state championship and I still think we can do it."

Adams added 14 points and three steals, while Zak Johnson scored eight points to help pace Firth, which shot 59 percent from the field for the game. The Cougars also outrebounded Melba, 33-19.

Chris Young scored 15 points, including a trio of 3-pointers, to lead Melba (12-9).