Horizon pulls off key road win against Desert Mountain as playoffs loom

Horizon High School players huddle with the coaching staff during a timeout in the fourth quarter in a 79-76 win over Desert Mountain. (Special to the Independent/Ben Leibowitz)

In a frenetic game that came down to the final possession, Horizon High School’s boys basketball team beat Desert Mountain High School 79-76 on the road.

The last time these two Scottsdale-area teams met — Friday, Jan. 12 — Horizon pulled off an 83-82 victory when junior point guard Aidyn Albright made a deep 3-pointer at the final buzzer.

“We had them,” Desert Mountain head coach Mark Schumaker said of the previous game. “We had them dead to rights.”

This time around, Coach Schumaker said that defending the perimeter would be his team’s top priority, and his team couldn’t let Albright get hot from 3-point range.

“I’m not worried about the interior,” Coach Schumaker said before the game.

Horizon plays fast and isn’t afraid to let shots fly from 3-point range. Coach Schumaker said his focus was not to slow Horizon down, but rather to play the best that his team can at their speed.

“You’re not going to dictate pace with Horizon,” he said.

Horizon head coach Jerry Conner said his team embraces the up-tempo pace because it’s fun for his kids to play at that speed. But even with more than 600 career wins at the high school level, the veteran coach joked about where his coaching style comes from.

“I have no original ideas at all,” Conner said with a laugh. “Everything that we do has been stolen from somebody.”

The Desert Mountain Wolves matched Horizon’s breakneck pace throughout the game. They frequently broke Horizon’s full-court press in the first half by getting behind the defense for layups. That translated into a 39-34 halftime lead.

In the third quarter, however, Horizon’s full-court press defense was able to force turnovers, leading to a scoring run that ignited the road crowd.

Albright scored a game-high 25 points for Horizon, and he converted free throws late in the game to help seal the win.

“You just take a deep breath and make sure everything goes in,” Albright said.

The junior credited the team’s “defensive intensity” for the second-half turnaround.

Horizon was forced to play without starter Gabe Zdrale down the stretch. The 6-foot-6-inch senior fouled out after scoring 14 points, but the Huskies overcame his absence.

Desert Mountain had its chances late in the game, but ultimately couldn’t capitalize at the free-throw line. Senior Hayden Peters played well for Desert Mountain by scoring 23 points, primarily by finishing at the rim — at one point converting a breakaway dunk in the first half.

At the end, Horizon needed to get one more stop to claim victory. The Wolves had the ball down by three with three seconds left in the game, but the final 3-point attempt from Desert Mountain fell short. Desert Mountain’s overall record now sits at 12-11.

Horizon improved its record to 14-6 with the win, and Albright said it was “really big” for his team due to the postseason implications.

“This is going to keep us in the playoffs,” Albright said.

Editor’s Note: Ben Leibowitz is a student-journalist from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

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