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State 5A boys basketball championship: Not the T-Wolves' time ... Meridian denies Lake City its first state title

by MARK NELKE
Sports Editor | March 7, 2021 1:30 AM

By MARK NELKE

Sports writer

NAMPA — Lake City was hoping this would be the Timberwolves’ year, despite its youth — three sophomores starting, sometimes four.

But it turned out to be Meridian’s year, the Warriors controlling the state 5A boys basketball title game Saturday night with its senior experience as much as its physical strength.

Lake City allowed Meridian to make a run late in the first half to seize control of the game, and the Timberwolves could never respond with a run at the Warriors the rest of the way in falling 68-54 at the Ford Idaho Center.

“You can sit there and scout and put on tape and watch it, like we did all night, but until you step out there and actually see the strength and the size, and they can run, and they’re athletic,” Lake City coach Jim Winger said of Meridian. “That’s a very solid basketball team. Very.”

Lake City (18-7), in its first title game since 2002, and second appearance ever, was bidding for its first state title since the school opened in 1994.

Instead, Meridian (20-1) won its first state title since 1992, and fourth overall, in its first title game appearance since 2001.

“We just have to remember how it feels, watching them win state, and it was brutal,” said Lake City sophomore wing Zach Johnson, who finished with 14 points. “But we’re all sophomores; we have two more seasons left, and I think we can come back and win one the next two years.”

“I told them, no reason to put your head down,” Winger said. “They’re pretty emotional, obviously, especially the seniors. But we’ve got a lot of people coming back, and a lot of good ones, and a lot of times all four of them (sophomores) started. We had an awesome year, won the league title, won the district title, made it to the state final, very proud of that. But the next few years are going to be very good ones.”

McKay Anderson, a 6-foot senior guard who came in averaging 10 points a game, scored 19 of his game-high 23 points in the first half for Meridian. He hit three 3-pointers in the first quarter (one of them a four-point play), and had 10 points at the quarter. He finished 4 of 6 from deep, and also had six rebounds.

Brody Rowbury, a senior post who is 6-10 and, well, considerably beefier than anyone Lake City had to offer, added 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting.

“I’ve never played anybody that big,” said Blake Buchanan, Lake City’s slender 6-9 center, who finished with 11 points and nine rebounds. “They were the more physical team, and they were a little more comfortable, a little more experienced. We just got outplayed.”

Johnson, 6-3 but with more muscle, took a turn guarding Rowbury in the second half, in which the Warrior had one basket and four points.

“He (Winger) assigned me to him and I said I’m going to compete and out-physical this kid,” said Johnson, who had three steals, at least two of them while jostling with Rowbury. “He didn’t score a whole lot after that.”

Senior guard Joe Mpoyo added 10 points and six rebounds for Meridian, and junior forward Davis Thacker hit two 3s and added 10.

Sophomore point guard Kolton Mitchell hit three 3-pointers and led Lake City with 15 points. But he was whistled for his third foul on a 3-pointer by Anderson with 4:52 left in the first half and the T-Wolves up 28-27. Lake City tried to hold the fort without him, but Anderson hit all three free throws, and added two more baskets on a 13-4 run that sent Meridian to the locker room with a 40-32 lead.

Lake City was unable to put a dent in the Meridian lead in the third quarter. Johnson’s inside basket with 7 minutes left in the game pulled the T-Wolves within 50-45, but Anderson’s 3 — his only basket of the second half — capped a 9-0 Warriors run as Lake City went scoreless for three minutes.

“They came as advertised,” Winger said. “The game was allowed to be very physical, and with that amount of beef, we’re a pretty strong group, but they’re really, really strong.

“That’s one of the rougher games I’ve ever been involved with. Anderson, he’s good, and Rowbury … I don’t even know what to say about that; he’s just a different animal, man. I thought we did a good job on him, I really did … No. 30 (Anderson) hurt us the first half.”

Meridian out-rebounded Lake City 32-27, including 9-4 on the offensive boards.

After putting up the good fight throughout, Lake City finally waved the white flag with 30 seconds left.

On the floor, players on both teams hugged as the clock wound down, then Meridian went off to celebrate.

“Lake City is an outstanding team, and I didn’t get to see them live,” said Meridian coach Jeff Sanor, who played on Boise High’s 1986 state champions, and later played at the University of Washington and at Boise State. “I’m watching them on the (NFHS) Network, and they’re so much faster in person than I anticipated. So what we had to try to do was do some things that would take them out of rhythm. We changed up our defenses, and at least tried to throw their timing off, and that seemed to work. And once we started rebounding, that seemed to spread the score out a little bit more for us.”

Jack Kiesbuy, one of two senior starters down the stretch for Lake City, finished a strong last part of the season with 10 points.

“We’re young, and the thing is, we like to work,” said Buchanan, who played in the state 4A title game last year with Moscow High before transferring last summer. “We’re going to go back to work and get better, we’re going to come back here and win it next year. That’s going to be our goal; we’re going to go back, remember this moment, and work.”

Meridian’s first two state title teams, in 1979 and 1983, were coached by Don Haynes, who later coached at Coeur d’Alene High.

Lake City went two-and-out last year with three freshmen starters, and that experience helped the Timberwolves reach the state title game this season.

Winger said he heard a couple of his players, after the game watching Meridian receive its championship medals, say things like “we’ll see about this next year.”

“I like that,” Winger said. “They’re workers. If you look at where we were in November to where we are now, we came a lonnnnng ways. We were pretty good at the beginning of the year, and by the end of the year, we were really good. So I expect that type of improvement in the next two.”

Meridian 20 20 9 19 — 68

Lake City 19 13 11 11 — 54

MERIDIAN — Kaden 2, Fisher 0, Thacker 10, Mpoyo 10, Rowbury 13, Anderson 23, McDowell 2, Homer 8. Totals 22-51 17-21 68.

LAKE CITY — Buchanan 11, Janke 0, Irvin 4, Kiesbuy 10, Spellman 0, Johnson 14, Mitchell 15, Meredith 0. Totals 22-49 5-6 54.

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JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY Jack Kiesbuy, right, of Lake City tries to drive around Brody Rowbury of Meridian in the state 5A championship game Saturday night at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

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JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY Lake City sophomore post Blake Buchanan accepts the state 5A boys basketball runner-up trophy from Idaho High School Activities Association Assistant Director Mike Federico following Saturday's game at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.

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JASON DUCHOW PHOTOGRAPHY Kolton Mitchell (14) of Lake City attempts a reverse layin as McKay Anderson of Meridian defends in the state 5A championship game Saturday night at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.