The final score may not show it, but The Meadows’ Class 2A boys basketball state semifinal ended long before the final buzzer sounded at Eldorado High School on Friday night.
The Mustangs wound up winning 50-35 over North Tahoe to earn a spot in the state championship game against Incline at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at Orleans Arena. Incline was a 67-65 winner over Lincoln County in the first semifinal.
“We did it right,” The Meadows coach Brian Lang said. “We played our guys for three quarters. Then we got to rest them in the fourth.”
A bit of strategy made it all work. Strategy that Lang put into play even as the season began.
The Mustangs (15-9) forced 32 turnovers against the Lakers, employing a three-quarter court pressure defense that threw off North Tahoe (15-13) from the beginning.
During the second and third quarters, the Lakers had 22 turnovers and took just 18 shots.
“We saved it,” Lang said of the press. “We didn’t play press the first half of the year, so we didn’t show it. Nobody had us playing press on tape, so teams were preparing for us not to press. Now they only get a day to prepare.”
As they wreaked havoc defensively, the Mustangs built an insurmountable lead.
Even when they lost post Obinna Ezeanolue early in the third quarter to his fourth personal foul, it didn’t change the pace.
The Meadows led it 31-12 at the half and 45-22 after three quarters.
Ezeanolue scored all of his game-high 18 points in the first half. His replacement when he exited with the foul trouble less than two minutes into the third quarter, Camden Saxe, immediately buried two 3-pointers.
Leading by 20 with just less than seven minutes remaining, Lang cleared his bench.
North Tahoe responded with a 10-2 run to close to within 47-35. Lucas Valois and John Parmeter-Zapata accounted for the entirety of those 10 points for the Lakers, and each finished with a team-high 10 points.
Incline 67, Lincoln County 65 — Torak Valosek drove to the free throw line, rose over Lynx forward Noah Smith, and made the 15-foot jumper that put the Highlanders in front for good with 40 seconds left.
The jumper completed a fourth-quarter comeback for Incline, which led big early, fell behind midway through the third quarter and stormed back to win.
The Highlanders dominated the first nine minutes, building a 25-7 lead on a Valosek bucket with 6:57 to play in the second quarter.
The rest of the half and the third quarter belonged to Lincoln County. The Lynx (19-9) outscored Incline, 25-17 to close within 35-30 at the half. A 10-2 run to open the third quarter put Lincoln County in front 40-37 with 5:06 left in the period.
From there it was a slugfest.
Incline scored inside, but the Lynx made six second-half 3-pointers. Four of those threes came from Mathew Hafen, who made five 3-pointers overall and finished with a game-high 24 points. The other two were from Cody Zile, who finished with 23 points.
Valosek and Ian Smith each had 14 points to pace Incline, which had four players score in double figures.