POCATELLO — There's about five feet of space between the sideline and the wall at Pocatello's aptly-named home gym, the Pit. The design of the sunken basketball court gives the entire place a claustrophobic feel and, with space taken up by chairs for the benches, gives coaches even less than that five feet to work with.
So it's not a surprise that, for the Indians' entire game against Preston on Tuesday, the tips of Pocatello coach Joe Green's polished brown loafers were poking out onto the court. Heck, there were entire possessions when they were completely on the court as Green stalked the sideline crouching and cajoling, even getting down in a stance and looking like a sixth defender — but never, ever sitting down.
With his close-cropped fade and seemingly never-ending energy, Green is a constant source of intensity on the sideline. On Tuesday, that was matched by his players on the court as the Indians, struggling to make shots, held Preston scoreless for nearly the entire fourth quarter to emerge as 36-32 winners in a back-and-forth District 5 battle at the Pit.
"I hope (my intensity) transfers over to the kids," Green said. "I'm probably just a crazy person, but that's a nice way to think about it. I think they naturally are really intense and competitive kids. It's kind of just who they are."
The win gave Pocatello (11-2, 1-0) first blood in what's likely to be a vicious conference schedule for all three 4A District 5 teams. Pocatello, Century and Preston are considered three of the best teams in 4A, and they'll all play each other twice in a furious bid to determine seeding for a district tournament from which only one squad will qualify to state.
"Our first conference game, we're both rivals, both teams are really battling for a conference game, and you expect that," Preston coach Tyler Jones said. "It was a high-intensity game for early in the season. ... They force turnovers, they got up in our grill, and we have to do better attacking the pressure instead of going away from it."
Pocatello's starting guards, Brevin Vaughan and Ryan Payne, spent the entire game mirroring their coach's defensive stance — and his intensity. Arms spread wide and hands in faces, they hawked Preston's ballhandlers as soon as they crossed halfcourt, making it hard for the visitors to get into their offense.
"Brevin Vaughan, pressuring the ball, turning guys, he just sets the tone for the rest of our team," Green said. "They're watching him work, and it kind of gets (Preston) out of their rhythm."
Aside from some first-half shotmaking by freshman Julian Bowie, the highlights were all defensive for Pocatello. There was Vaughan diving on the floor to come up with a big steal early in the second half. Payne flying to the corner to send a Preston 3-pointer out of bounds. Jaxon Williams stonewalling shots inside.
After an early bucket in the fourth quarter by Preston's Gabe Hammons, the visiting Indians didn't score again until Hammons banked in a wild heave of a 3-pointer with 4 seconds to play. Those five points were the only ones Preston (9-5, 0-1) scored in the final period, and the Indians only had 12 total in the second half after leading 20-18 at halftime.
Payne followed Hammons' late 3 by making two free throws to clinch the game, his third and fourth makes in a row after he missed the front end of a one-and-one with just over a minute left to help Preston's comeback chances.
"I just have so much confidence in him as a point guard," Green said of Payne. "I get after him and I expect a lot. When he was at the line again, I just figured he was going to make them both, and he did."
If Pocatello can play defense the way they did on Tuesday, Green has to like the Indians' chances. After all, they have Bowie, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half on a mix of 3-pointers and hanging floaters in the lane.
The freshman scored all seven of Poky's first-quarter points. His deep 3 at the halftime buzzer kept the Indians within a possession at halftime, and his pass to Hunter Killian for another buzzer-beater at the end of the third quarter gave Pocatello the lead.
"He scored when we were struggling, got to the rim and hit a 3," Green said about Bowie. "He carried us. That's going to be nice for us. ... I was really proud of his game, especially his first half when we were in that scoring drought otherwise."
Hammons scored 14 points for Preston to match Bowie. Braden Hess added 11 for the visiting Indians, and Williams had eight points for the hosts.
Pocatello plays Thursday at Century. Preston hosts Hillcrest on Thursday.
POCATELLO 36, PRESTON 32
Preston 11 9 7 5 — 32
Pocatello 7 11 10 8 — 36
Preston — Hammons 14, Hess 11, Harris 4, Shumway 3.
Pocatello — Bowie 14, Williams 8, Payne 7, Killian 4, Vaughan 3.