Class 5A hoops: Down 18, top-seeded Johnston rallies to survive massive scare, edge Urbandale

Danny Lawhon
The Des Moines Register

Class 5A's top seed probably wasn't as worried as it should have been late Monday morning.

Johnston came out for the second half of its state quarterfinal game at Wells Fargo Arena down 18 to an eighth-seeded Urbandale squad the Dragons had beaten twice this winter by a combined 45 points.

There was no panic, however, either in the locker room or on the floor. There was no change in warmup attitude, and the execution was more of what the 21-2 Dragons were used to.

Speed, defense, dominance.

An overwhelming second-half display, paced by Maya McDemott's game-high 22 points, helped the No. 1 seed survive the unexpected test and edge the J-Hawks 66-57 in the latest charged chapter of the suburban Des Moines rivalry and in Urbandale's first state appearance in a quarter-century.

Behind 41-23 at intermission, thanks to Urbandale's 59 percent shooting and 6-for-11 effort from 3-point range, Johnston methodically upped the intensity as the second half progressed. A Kendall Nead (15 points) triple made the first real dent at 44-30 with 6 minutes to go in the third quarter, when the Dragons began to use a full-court press.

A Regan Nesheim (14 points) steal and drive led to an old-fashioned 3-point play and just a 50-46 deficit with the same amount of time remaining in the fourth.

Johnston's Maya McDermott and Urbandale's DeeDee Pryor reach for the ball during the Class 5A Iowa girls' state basketball tournament quarterfinal between Johnston and Urbandale on Monday, Feb. 25, 2019, in Wells Fargo Arena.

Off a Macy Thompson offensive rebound 90 seconds later, McDermott completed the comeback. Johnston's first lead all day came at 53-52 on a 3 from the wing that sent the Dragons' bench spilling onto the floor after a timeout and the packed Johnston student section tumbling into the rows behind them in delirium.

"We just said we had to persevere through adversity," McDermott said of her team's halftime pump-up speech. "(Urbandale) came out stronger than ever. They’re a good team. We had to come out and trust each other and trust the process."

The J-Hawks (13-10) crept back within a point on the lone 3-pointer from Urbandale senior guard DeeDee Pryor, who paced her team with 16 points. But Johnston sealed the game with clutch plays down low and a 24-for-32 clip from the foul line to advance to Thursday's 10 a.m. semifinal against West Des Moines Valley.

By the final seconds, Dragons coach Chad Jilek was wearing a much different-looking smile than the wry one he sported in the second quarter.

"I thought, 'It wasn't going to matter what we were doing. They were going to hit almost every shot,'" Jilek said. "... But I'm one of the luckiest guys in the state. There are coaches out there who are so much better than me. I just have players. Players go out and execute and win.

"The girls just took over in the second half. We just needed to get them to focus harder, and keep attacking, and they did." 

Urbandale wasn't hanging its collective head despite the disappointment. The girls made the school's first appearance in the state tournament since 1994 a memorable one, and even received a visit from members of that year's team to serve as motivation.

"It was nice to end the drought, because now it puts Urbandale on the map," Pryor said. "Hopefully, future teams and programs will be worried about us."

The 6-for-9 shooting effort from 6-foot-1 freshman Jada Gyamfi (12 points) is just one reason coach Kenton Tennal was upbeat about his team's future.

"It’s hard to hold back a giant like that for that long," Tennal said. "They’re kind of where we want to be. We want to be out here every single year, and I think the girls started something pretty special this year."

The Dragons are the ones hoping to finish this season with their first five-player state championship, just like they (eventually) did Monday.


Urbandale  22   19   9   7   —   57

Johnston   14   9   20   23   —   66

Urbandale (13-10) — Pryor 16, J. Gyamfi 12, M. Gyamfi 8, Putz 8, Cole 7, Lynch 3, Heller 3. Also played: Herzberg, Gaskil, Koua. Totals 23-52 4-6 57.

Johnston (22-2) — McDermott 22, Nead 15, Nesheim 14, Gossling 7, Mock 4, Thompson 4. Also played: Jilek. Totals 19-35 24-32 66.