CASPER — Cheyenne East hasn’t used a zone defense much over the course of this season.
That didn’t stop the tactic from working wonders during at 49-39 victory over Jackson in the opening round of the Class 4A boys basketball state tournament on Thursday at Natrona County High in Casper.
“It’s hard to shoot in this gym, and they weren’t used to that,” Thunderbirds junior guard Drew Jackson said. “They couldn’t hit shots when we got into that zone, and that gave us the edge we needed.”
No. 1-ranked East (22-3) faces Campbell County (10-16) in the semifinals at 7:30 Friday night at the Wyoming Center.
Getting to the semis wasn’t easy for East. It trailed by as much as five points during the first quarter, and the opening half saw five ties and 10 lead changes.
“We knew from watching film they had a good first punch and are a team that comes out strong,” said Jackson, who scored a game-high 19 points to go with six rebounds and four steals.
“We had to survive that until our shots started falling. That happened at the end of the first half and the start of the second half.”
Jackson scored a contested basket on the right block to forge a 23-23 tie with 1 minute, 24 seconds remaining in the second quarter. That bucket sparked a 15-0 run for the T-Birds that stretched across the second and third frames.
“We tried to use our pressure to speed them up so they couldn’t get it inside to their big,” East coach Rusty Horsley said. “We wanted to make it harder to get it in there. Our kids did a good job of digging down defensively and adjusting.
“We hardly ever play zone, and we played quite a bit of zone to make that run. Our kids adjusted to it real well.”
Jackson center Andrew Hanna converted in the paint to snap a scoreless streak that spanned 5 minutes, 11 seconds. Hanna — a 6-foot-7 junior — snapped a scoring drought of 5:37 when he scored with 2:37 remaining in the contest.
“He’s big, and he’s good, and I couldn’t help off the ball as much if our guards got beat because I didn’t want to leave him open,” said East senior forward Kysar Jolley, who scored 11 points and pulled down 11 rebounds. “I just had to stick with him. We had a game plan of having guys dig down and help me once he got the ball.
“We had guys flying to him to try to get him to pass it out.”
Hanna finished with 12 points on 6-for-9 shooting, grabbed 12 rebounds and blocked five shots. He entered the game tied for fourth in 4A in scoring at 16.2 points per contest. While East didn’t shut Hanna down, it limited his impact.
“Kysar did a tremendous job on (Hanna), but he also had help from Nathan (Mirich) and Camden (Hayes), who were digging down and showing him a double-team,” Horsley said. “We couldn’t really double-team (Hanna) because he’s such a good passer, but we had to show the double real quick and then get out of it.
“That team is really scary shooting the 3-pointer, and we couldn’t let them get on a roll. There was a little bit of it in the first half, but our kids did a good job of showing and then getting back out.”
East led by as much as 14 points during the fourth quarter. The T-Birds forced the Broncs (14-11) into 14 turnovers — including six steals — that it converted into 15 points.
Mack Fairbairn added 10 points off the bench for Jackson.
EAST 49, JACKSON 39
Jackson…… 12 11 10 6 — 39
Cheyenne East…… 10 17 15 7 — 49
Jackson: Brunner 3-10 0-0 7, Fairbairn 4-8 0-0 10, Harland 2-5 0-0 4, I. Larsen 2-13 0-0 4, Wetzel 0-0 0-0 0, Hanna 6-9 0-0 12, Keelin 1-4 0-0 2. Totals: 18-49 0-0 39.
Cheyenne East: G. Schlabs 2-9 1-4 5, Jo. Rayl 0-0 0-0 0, Na. Mirich 2-9 2-2 8, Br. Bohlmann 0-1 0-0 0, Jackson 7-17 4-5 19, Hayes 3-6 0-1 6, Jolley 5-14 0-0 11. Totals: 19-56 7-12 49.
3-pointers: Jackson 3-17 (Brunner 1-4, Fairbairn 2-5, Harland 0-1, I. Larsen 0-6, Keelin 0-1); East 4-17 (G. Schlabs 0-2, Na. Mirich 2-6, Jackson 1-2, Hayes 0-1, Jolley 1-6). Rebounds: Jackson 37 (Hanna 12); East 35 (Jolley 11). Assists: Jackson 9 (Brunner 3, Keeling 3); East 7 (Three with 2). Turnovers: Jackson 14 (Brunner 5), East 6 (G. Schalbs 4). Blocked shots: Jackson 8 (Hanna 5); East 0. Steals: Jackson 3 (Brunner); East 6 (Jackson 4). Team fouls: Jackson 15, East 9.