A fifth state title since 2016 was in Preston's grasp, but missed free throws ultimately derailed those aspirations.
Preston missed nine shots from the charity stripe in the second half, including six in the fourth quarter, and it proved costly against a very good Middleton team, which prevailed 47-45 in the title game of the 4A Boys Basketball State Championships on Saturday at the Ford Idaho Center in Nampa.
It was a hard-fought, intense championship game that also featured four missed freebies from the Vikings in the final quarter. However, Middleton, the top-ranked team in the final 4A coaches and media polls, made enough shots from the charity stripe and field to pull out the victory.
It was the Vikings' first state championship at the 4A level and their first in any classification since 1965. Meanwhile, Preston's just missed out on its fifth 4A title in the last six seasons. The Indians won three straight crowns from 2016-18, lost in the finals in overtime to Idaho Falls in 2019 and was triumphant again in 2020. Preston edged Middleton by one point in the semifinals a year ago.
Saturday's showdown was a nailbiter the entire way as neither team led by more than seven points. There were six lead changes and one tie in the first half, and three ties and one lead change in the second.
Preston (19-8) was able to limit Middleton star Tyler Medaris to a pair of points in the opening half, but the athletic 6-foot-7 forward scored 10 after halftime. The Vikings (23-4) enjoyed a significant height advantage over the Indians, but the 4A Fifth District champions were able to hold their own in the rebounding department. In fact, Preston outrebounded Middleton 30-29, including an 11-6 edge on the offensive glass.
The Vikings took the lead for good at 33-31 on a Sawyr Hansen jump shot late in the third quarter. The Indians got as close as three points in the fourth quarter and had several chances to get even closer, but missed too many free throws, including two front ends of one-and-ones.
Preston knocked down all eight of its foul shots in the opening half and went 16 of 25 in the contest. Middleton also misfired on two front ends and ended up going 16 of 24 from the charity stripe.
Gabe Hammons scored nine of his game-high 13 points in the first quarter for Preston, which got nine points from Braden Hess and seven from Cole Harris. Rhett Larson sank four big free throws in the first half for the Indians when Hess was on the bench in foul trouble.
Preston was a bit unlucky early in the fourth quarter when a Druw Jones basket was waved off on a rebounding foul by Hess. It appeared Jones got his shot up before Hess was whistled for the foul.
Merit Foote finished with eight points for the Vikings, who won 15 of their final 16 games during the 2020-21 campaign. Six different Vikings netted five or more points.
Both teams struggled from 3-point range as Preston went 1 for 9 and Middleton 3 for 14. Preston's lone 3-ball was buried at the fourth-quarter buzzer by Jones.
The Indians only committed four turnovers the entire contest ‑‑‑ two in each half.
These two teams also squared off in the preseason as Middleton overcame a slim halftime deficit in a 61-52 home victory over Preston on Dec. 30.