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Jesuit boys basketball stays close with Arizona-bound Brandon Williams before losing late

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior point guard Will Sheaffer drives to the rim against Crespi in the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational.

With a blend of cagey smarts and unappreciated athleticism, Jesuit's Will Sheaffer shook past the Crespi defense and found himself at the rim.

The junior guard fooled the Celtics with a left-handed half spin move, getting past a defense that was reportedly too athletic, too intertwined for the Crusaders' cast of "Hoosiers" clones. But as Sheaffer finished with his inside hand, plus the foul, Jesuit found itself in a battle with Arizona-bound five star point guard Brandon Williams and his Southern California comrades in the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational.

Trailing just 50-45 with 5 minutes and 30 seconds to go, the scrappy Crusaders were within range of wresting away what would've been the early upset of the tournament to that point.

Ultimately, however, Williams was too much.

The future Wildcat scored seven straight points in the fourth on an array of mixtape-like drives, acrobatic finishes and deadly pull-up jumpers off the window to extend Crespi's lead to 57-45. And Sheaffer's bucket turned out to be Jesuit's last stand. The Crusaders didn't score another point the rest of the way and dropped the contest 61-45 at Liberty High School on Dec. 27. Williams finished with a game-high 29 points on 10-21 shooting to go along with four rebounds and three assists.

Still, credit Jesuit. While other local schools were washed away by the national powers descending on the LSI from out of state, the Crusaders competed, as head coach Gene Potter demands and expects. Jesuit nearly threw a wrench in the LSI bracket with its hard-hat and lunchpail approach.

"We take a lot of pride in playing with a chip on our shoulder," Sheaffer said. "We're always going to be the hardest working team out there. We're not gonna let anybody dive on a ball before us or outwork us. We wanted to get the win, but we turned some heads and made it a close game. We definitely smashed the expectations a little bit."

It was the kind of effort that Jesuit can bank on when the Metro League wars recommence next week and even further down the road when the Class 6A playoffs kick off.

"It shows what we can do and helped build our confidence," Jesuit senior post Joe Wall said. "We knew we could play with these guys. We played within ourselves, ran our offense, stayed composed and limited our turnovers."

Down 25-12 after the first quarter, Jesuit got back into character, ratcheting up the defensive pressure, forcing takeaways, executing on offense and therefore made the LSI square-off a competitive. In the second quarter junior sharpshooter Aiden Williams made two mid-range jumpers after getting chased off the three-point line. Wall came off a flex screen and canned a jumper from the left angle to bring Jesuit within 33-26. And Sam Handley's hard boxout coerced a Crespi foul and subsequent two free throws from the Crusader post to make it 33-28 with 33 seconds to go to go in the half. To steal a game of this magnitude after such a rough start would've been gravy. To have a puncher's chance down the stretch against an otherworldly lead guard like Williams speaks to the Crusaders' temperament.

"We settled into the moment and understood what we had to do to stay in the game," Wall said. "Coming in, we didn't really know much about (Crespi). Once we figured out personnel, it was good."

One could see Jesuit's confidence and poise pick up as the game stretched into the second half. Justin Bieker found Wall inside for two on a smooth drive-and-find while Matthew Levis and Michael Gadda gave Jesuit a boost by each burying a three in the third quarter to cut Crespi's lead to 45-38 with a minute left in the frame.

Aiden Williams made quick ball reversal to a wide open Wall who swished the top-of-the-key three to bring Jesuit within 50-43 early in the fourth. Sheaffer's aforementioned strong finish made it 50-45, the closest Jesuit had been since the beginning moments of the game.

"We all looked up at the scoreboard, then looked at each other and said 'This is our game to take,'" Sheaffer said. "It didn't fall our way, but in that moment we felt like we belonged here. We were playing together, flowing really well. We relied on each other and trusted each other to make shots and that gave us a shot against a really good team."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit senior Joe Wall led the Crusaders with a team-high 17 points including two three pointers against Crespi.

Jesuit gave Williams, who up until the LSI had been on a minutes restriction as he returns from a knee injury that ended his junior season, a strong challenge in his first extended minutes on the floor. Sheaffer was Williams' primary defender. The starting point guard did everything in his ability to make Williams work, forcing a number of tough, contested, deep three-point casts and low-percentage looks inside that helped Jesuit limit Crespi to just two field goals in the second quarter. Sheaffer was physical and rugged on the ball and relied on his teammates behind him to help on Williams' jaunts inside the paint. Williams was just 2-8 from three, oftentimes because Sheaffer and Alex Wan contested high and hard to make his attempts much more treacherous than normal.

"I wanted to act like (Williams) was just like every player I've played against and give him the same shot I give everybody else," Sheaffer said. "I have to 'D' up everybody and he was just the one guy in the way. I get a lot of my confidence on defense. That's what I base my game around."

Of course in crunch time, the future Wildcat was awesome over the final five minutes, as stars normally are. Twice, Williams ran off a series of baseline screens to get loose along the left wing where he isolated Jesuit's guards and beat them off the bounce with his next level quickness and exquisite finishing ability around the basket. And the 6-foot-2 guard wowed the LSI crowd with a Kobe-esque up-and-under move from the mid-post along the baseline that resulted in a teardrop off the glass.

Crespi's team defense was superb over the final five minutes, forcing Jesuit into tough looks both on the perimeter and around the hoop. Plus, the Celtics held the pounding Crusaders off the backboards and limited Jesuit to just one shot per offensive possession. As a result, Williams and company turned the tally into a comfortable margin in a game that was closer than the final score would indicate.

Yet, there were ample building moments Jesuit can take into Metro as they re-open the conference slate with Beaverton and Southridge next week. Wall scored a team-high 16 points on 7-11 shooting. Gadda led Jesuit with seven rebounds. Sheaffer looks like a guard who can cover the top backcourt players in the state. Bieker got to the free throw line five times and chipped in five rebounds. Aiden Williams is a potentially deadly three-point shooter anywhere on the floor.

Jesuit lost to Lake Oswego 78-60 in the LSI consolation bracket on Thursday. The Crusaders are now 5-3 overall with a road game against Beaverton on Jan. 3 and a home game against Southridge on Jan. 5.

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