POCATELLO – In a raucous opposing environment against a hungry team, Preston did not play at its optimal level.
But the Indians still hung on for a 58-55 win at Pocatello on Friday in their regular-season finale. The three-point win tied for their lowest margin of victory in a one-loss season.
“We haven’t faced a lot of adversity this year, but the kids found a way and showed some tough grit,” Preston coach Tyler Jones said. “You want a game like that going into the postseason.”
Preston (20-1, 18-0 4A District 4-5) finished undefeated in conference play and will be the No. 1 seed in the district tournament, while Pocatello (12-9, 11-7 4A District 4-5) is seeded fourth.
The second matchup between the teams was more back-and-forth than the first, when Preston clinched a 79-55 home win in mid-January.
The road Indians were hanging by a thread at times in the second half, which they started slow. Preston’s star forward Ty Hyde also fouled out at the end of the game.
“Give Pocatello credit. They’re a dangerous team and definitely one of the top teams in the conference,” said Jones, whose squad was led by Luke Smellie’s 18 points. “This is a tough place to play. It always has been. It’s a great home court.”
Pocatello opened the second half with a 9-3 run to take either team’s biggest lead of the game at 40-31.
Preston responded by scoring 19 of the next 22 points to go ahead 50-43 with six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but Poky scored the next seven points to knot the score at 50-50.
“I remember in the timeout, we challenged ourselves to come back, and they battled back and we had them on the ropes a little bit,” Pocatello coach Joe Green said. “You can’t make very many mistakes against Preston because they’re so good.”
Ultimately, the matchup came down to a minute-long segment that started with around two minutes left – more than a minute after Hyde picked up his fifth foul on a charge.
Pocatello, down 54-53, missed the front end of a one-and-one with 2:03 left in the game. Preston then drained more than a minute off the clock before Cooper Hobson missed a short turnaround jumper, gathered his miss after it bounced off multiple hands and missed another close shot while being fouled.
With 56.3 seconds remaining, Hobson made both free throws to give his team 56 points, which turned out to be more than Pocatello ended up with.
Not that the home team didn’t try.
After senior Isaac Brown made 2 of 3 free throws to cut Poky’s deficit to 58-55, Preston failed to corral its inbounds pass and gave its opponent the ball back just past midcourt with 1.7 seconds on the clock.
But on Poky’s in-bounds play, Brown – the home team’s top scorer with 13 points – was blanketed by two players and Pocatello airballed a desperation 3 as time expired.
Green said the determining factor was free throws, as Preston made it to the charity stripe 31 times and made 19 attempts, while Poky knocked down 7 of 10.
“That was a good game,” Green said. “Back and forth obviously. We came up a few possessions short. We just couldn’t make the last couple plays, but we battled hard and played tough and just didn’t find a way to finish it off there.”
In the 4A District 4-5 tournament, Preston opens Thursday in a home first-round matchup against the lowest-seeded team remaining, while Pocatello hosts Twin Falls on Thursday.
PRESTON 58, POCATELLO 55
Preston 12 16 17 13 – 58
Pocatello 11 20 12 12 – 55
Preston – Hyde 14, Smellie 18, Harris 5, Hobson 5, Ward 10, Robertson 3, Hammons 3.
Pocatello – Brown 13, Downs 9, Hale 10, Hales 2, Ney 6, Williams 4, Bailey 6, Payne 2, Bruner 3