McCAMMON – Kent Howell didn’t know what else to say. The Marsh Valley coach has a booming voice that carries across the Eagles’ gym like he's in an echo chamber. His bellowing words began to garner chuckles from the crowd after they heard the same thing for the 100th time.
When Marsh Valley was on offense, Howell screamed, "Patience.” When the Eagles were playing defense on Snake River, the first-year Eagles’ head coach shouted one word: “Pressure.”
But can you blame him for the simplicity?
The Eagles and Panthers played for the third time in three weeks on Thursday. A trio of contests that close together don’t offer the chance for much randomness. Snake River knew what Marsh Valley was doing. Marsh Valley knew what Snake River was doing. All Howell could do was yell two words at his team, hoping it would help them remember the fundamentals.
Thursday’s game showed the lack of disparity, it showed how evenly matched these two teams are, it showed anyone could win. Which is why it took two overtimes before Snake River could pull out a 58-57 victory.
Snake River took an 11-point lead into the fourth quarter but the Eagles’ press forced some Panther turnovers. Within four minutes, Marsh Valley’s 11-0 run tied the game and caused the stalemate that eventually forced overtime.
Of course there wasn’t going to be a blowout between Snake River and Marsh Valley.
“There are no secrets,” Snake River coach Robert Coombs said. “You’re not going to full anyone this late in the season. It’s just grit. Kids just have to come to play. Turnovers, rebounds, get your butt down on defense.”
With the win, Snake River advances to the 3A District 5 Championship on Tuesday. Marsh Valley will now need to beat American Falls on Saturday then defeat the Panthers twice to win the conference.
That discrepancy between paths to state is why Thursday was so important, why the game’s final moments were so pressure-packed.
Marsh Valley actually had a chance to win the game in regulation and in overtime. In a tie game both times, the Eagles held the ball for more than a minute, trying to get the last shot.
“It makes you want a shot clock,” Snake River guard Mitch Lindsay said.
No doubt. But against an experienced Snake River team, it’s not the worst move. Problem was, Marsh Valley couldn’t execute.
In regulation, junior guard Payton Howe missed a short floater on the Eagles’ final drawn-up play. Then in overtime, sophomore guard Stanton Howell was called for an offensive foul while trying to drive to the basket with less than 10 seconds to play. Yet, at no point did Snake River try and force Marsh Valley into a shot.
“As long as it was tied up like that, I’m not going to take any chances,” Coombs said. “They want us to come out and spread the floor so they can drive by us. I’m content to sit back and if they want to shoot one clear from the cheap seats, we’ll let them.”
Missed opportunities in crunch time came back to bite Marsh Valley in double overtime. Tied at 51 with less than two minutes left, Lindsay drove from the left wing and tried to connect on a layup through contact. To no foul call, the ball floated over the baseline. Marsh Valley’s Stanton Howell jumped out of bounds and tried to throw the ball off Lindsay. And, in a way, he did.
“The ball was going out of bounds and they threw it off my face,” Lindsay said, a red streak of blood still sitting under his right nostril. “But it went up in the air so I went and got it.”
Lindsay corralled the ball and flicked towards a wide-open Noah Watt on the wing. Snake River’s 5-foot-8 senior guard unloaded a 3-pointer. Swish. The triple gave the Panthers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
“We’ve been in this situation a million times,” Lindsay said. “I mean, I’ve been in it since my freshman year. Just that experience, you learn to play in (tight games).”
On Thursday, that experience paid off. And, now, Snake River is one win away from another trip to state.
SNAKE RIVER 58, MARSH VALLEY 57 (2OT)
Snake River 21 12 11 2 3 9 — 58
Marsh Valley 10 12 11 13 3 8 — 57
Snake River — Lindsay 22, Watt 18, Higginson 12, Gilbert 4, McCraw 2.
Marsh Valley — B. Howell 15, M. Belnap 10, S. Howell 9, K. Howell 8, Roche 6, Howe 5, Hansen 4.