ANCHORAGE - Earlier this season, the Juneau-Douglas High School boys basketball team keyed off the 3.
These days, the Crimson Bears are thriving inside.
Juneau's Byron Wild scored 24 points - most from in the paint - as the Juneau boys edged East Anchorage, 68-63, to open Class 4A state tournament play on Thursday at Anchorage's Sullivan Arena.
"We've got 3-point shooters, but we've also got Byron as a presence inside," Juneau coach George Houston said. "We did as well as we ever have in getting him the ball early and getting him the ball often. ...
"He was being efficient and effective ... getting points and (drawing) fouls."
The victory gives the Crimson Bears a 2-1 edge in this season's hard-fought series with the Thunderbirds, and sends Juneau into a state semifinal rematch against top-ranked Wasilla at 7:05 p.m. tonight.
Juneau and East were neck-and-neck for most of the game, as the score stood tied at 15-all after the first quarter before East took a 33-31 lead into the half on a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Rickey Mason.
But the Crimson Bears (17-8) pulled in front to lead 46-44 after the third, thanks to an 8-0 run midway through the period and four inside points apiece from Wild, Bryan Hamey and Joe Ayers.
East, meanwhile, made just three of nine free-throw attempts in the quarter en route to 12-for-29 shooting from the charity stripe in the game.
In the fourth quarter, East (15-10) briefly took the lead a few seconds into the period on a three-point play by Jordan Jamestown, who along with brother and teammate Ozelle grew up in Angoon.
But junior Alex Heumann hit a jumper with 6:50 to go to put the Crimson Bears up 48-47, and then hit a long 3-pointer with 5:45 left that broke a 48-48 tie and gave Juneau the lead for good.
With less than a minute to go, Ozelle Jamestown sank a 3-pointer, and made a field goal with 30 seconds left to draw East within three points at 63-60. The Crimson bears responded, but Jordan Jamestown drained two free-throw shots with 10 seconds to go to make the score 66-63 in Juneau's favor.
Sterling Henderson hit two free-throws with seven seconds left to ice the win, and Hamey scored nine points in the final period to help keep the persistent T-Birds at bay.
Along with Wild's 24 points, the Crimson Bears were led by 13 points from Hamey and 12 from Heumann.
Heumann said that going inside helps the Crimson Bears by opening up all kinds of scoring chances - though the Bears haven't needed many second chances.
"We feel like we can get our best shots when we go inside and out, and Byron has just been unstoppable the past few games," junior Alex Heumann said.
Wild said it was good to get a win to erase memories of last weekend's frustrating loss to Craig at the region tournament.
"It was nice to be able to bounce back from our performance against Craig," Wild said. "That's a testament to how much we trust each other and how much we trust what coach teaches us."
Jordan Jamestown led East with 17 points, while Ozelle Jamestown added 14 and Ben Eppenger-Robinson chipped in 13.
East and Juneau played to a series split in Juneau earlier this season, including an 85-84 overtime victory for East.
In the other game, an 89-75 Juneau win, the Crimson Bears sank seven 3-pointers. On Thursday, Juneau attempted just eight 3-pointers, and made three, while focusing on the inside game.
East coach Fred Young said he was not surprised to see Juneau go inside so often on Thursday.
"I knew (Houston) was going to watch the tape of last time and see that they could do that," Young said. "They stayed with what they ran - they didn't deviate."
Young said the poor free-throw shooting performance was his team's undoing.
Just like last year, the Bears turn their attention to the top-ranked Wasilla Warriors (24-2) in the semifinals. Wasilla cruised past West Valley on Thursday, 63-36.
The Warriors' weapons include 7-foot center Ray Schafer, an Oregon recruit, as a dominating inside presence, and sharpshooting Buddy Bailey as a threat from outside.
Juneau beat Wasilla in overtime in last year's state tournament, 59-56, while the Warriors have beaten the Crimson Bears twice this season, 57-50 on Jan. 9 and 66-41 on Feb. 15.
Houston said Juneau showed promise in the two losses. The Crimson Bears stayed close throughout the January game, and trailed just 26-22 at halftime in February.
"We have, for a game and a half, played them really tough," he said. "They've got size, and balance around it that can shoot the basketball. We've just got to battle."
In other Class 4A boys games on Thursday, Bartlett annihilated Kodiak, 103-41, in a game featuring the last two state champions, while Colony outlasted Chugiak, 61-58, in a triple-overtime thriller.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
CLASS 4A STATE TOURNEY BOYS
CRIMSON BEARS 67, THUNDERBIRDS 61
Thursday's first-round game from Anchorage's Sullivan Arena
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS (68) - Joe Ayers 3 2-2 8, Sterling Henderson 1 3-4 5, Alex Heumann 5 0-1 12, Nik Hura 1 1-2 4, Bryan Hamey 4 5-8 13, David Jones 1 0-0 2, Byron Wild 9 6-7 24, Kolt Garvey 1 0-1 2, Josh Monagle 1 0-1 2, Adam Nelson 0 0-0 0. Totals 24 17-25 68.
EAST ANCHORAGE (63) - Jordan Jamestown 5 7-8 17, Tony Wilson 0 0-0 0, Rickey Mason 3 1-2 9, LeRaun Robinson 1 0-0 2, Casey Flair 1 0-0 2, Ozelle Jamestown 5 3-14 14, Ben Eppenger-Robinson 6 1-3 13, Bennie Holt 3 0-2 6. Totals 24 12-29 63.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 15 16 15 22 - 68
KETCHIKAN 15 18 11 19 - 63
3-point goals - Juneau-Douglas 3 (Heumann 2, Hura 1), East Anchorage 3 (Mason 2, O. Jamestown 1). Fouled out - Juneau-Douglas 1 (Ayers), East Anchorage 1 (J. Jamestown). Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Juneau-Douglas 20, East Anchorage 22.