Beavers continue to progress, drop second round LSI matchup against Jefferson
To his left, Jake Estep's former AAU teammates Kamaka Hepa and Marcus Tsohonis slowly picked through the Les Schwab Invitational post-game spread of cookies and cream protein bars and lime-flavored, electrolyte-laced Gatorade.
The dynamic Democrat duo had just downed Estep's young Beaverton squad 74-56 in the second round of the LSI, combining for 31 points and seven assists. Together, Hepa and Tsohonis totaled Jefferson's final nine points in the fourth quarter to put away the agitating Beavers.
Beaverton went from overwhelmed in the first quarter, trailing 21-4, to combative in the final three quarters, including 16-28 made field goals in the second half. After almost getting trampled in the first eight minutes, the two-time defending Metro League champions showed evidence of rapid progress. Mason Stewart-Carothers made big shots. Sophomore sixth man John Oleson seemed to be in the middle of everything on both ends of the floor. The Beavers' 2-3 zone shored up and helped force 13 takeaways.
Yet, as he stood in the Liberty High School hallway, Estep politely side-stepped the posed question, the same way he Euro-steps around planted defenders in transition. Moral victories, while not completely meaningless, don't carry much bearing in the grand scheme of things. Beaverton is chasing bigger goals, ambitions that some would deem eyebrow-raising based on what the Beavers lost from last year's state semifinal team. Estep is that expectant about Beaverton's group.
"It's great to see (Jefferson) right now because we'll see them again in the state championship," Estep said. "We surprise people. We surprised people yesterday (in the first round of the LSI) when we beat West Salem. Even though we lost to Sunset, that happens and we'll beat them next time. We just have to keep fighting because that's what we do best. If you do that, you're in any game."
And battle, the Beavers did versus Jefferson.
Olsen rebounded his own miss and softly laid it home to start the second quarter. Estep came off a down screen and swished a high-arching three. Olsen grabbed an offensive board and kicked it out to Stewart-Carothers for a rainbow triple from the right wing with 4:44 to go to make it 29-12. Estep drove right, drew the double team and kicked it out to Bennett Giebels who hit another three to cut Jefferson's lead to 29-15. Beaverton's 9-0 run snapped only by a Robert Ford steal and score. At the half, Beaverton trailed 35-17 but went into the locker room feeling much more assured after adjusting to the big stage of the LSI and the gravity of playing the Class 6A prohibitive favorite.
"We didn't quit," Estep said. "You see teams play Jeff and they quit after they get down 20. We stayed in it and stayed connected as one. That's what I like to see. We don't like to lose. We take it personally when we lose. It's tough to say 'moral win' but we made some great strides. We showed a lot of character."
Offensively, Beaverton found its flow in the third quarter, outscoring Jefferson 21-14 thanks to a 10-0 run highlighted not just by Estep's scoring ability, but threes from Stewart-Carothers, mid-range jumpers from Oleson and a runout bucket by Giebels, whose layup brought Beaverton within 49-38 at the end of three. Rather than trade hoops with Hepa, Tsohonis and senior Khalil Chatman, Beaverton fastened the perimeter and high post of its 2-3 zone defense and extended Jefferson out past the three-point line, making it easier to pick off passes and start its transition game.
When the third quarter horn sounded, the young Beavers bounced to the sideline with a visible strut in their step, knowing they'd just played their best stretch of basketball this season.
"When you can make a 10-0 run on a nationally ranked team and the best team in the state, you can do that on anybody," Estep said. "If you're doing against a team like that, we can put a 20-0 run on the teams we're supposed to beat."
Beaverton kept the deficit at 11 for a good portion of the fourth quarter. Oleson pivoted from the high post and bounced a textbook backdoor feed to Stuart-Carothers for two. Estep and Stewart-Carothers banged back-to-back threes in a 15-second span to close a 20-point deficit back down to 63-49 with 3:30 left. Jefferson turned the ball over on the next possession and Beaverton southpaw Cody Davidson buried a three from the left wing to make it 63-52 with 2:44 left. Beaverton hit 6 of 12 from three-point land in the second half. Oleson finished with six points, seven rebounds (five on the offensive glass) and three assists. Giebels had five points and three assists. Point guard Mike Gooding added four points, three steals and three assists while Stewart-Carothers had 14 points on 5-11 shooting including 4-7 from three. Jefferson shot an absurd 72 percent in the second half and went on its own 10-0 spurt to close the fourth quarter. Chatman finished with a game-high 22 points and 10 rebounds. Hepa had 15 points and five assists. Following the flat-footed first quarter, Beaverton and Jefferson actually scored 52 points apiece in the subsequent three frames. Estep scored a team-high 19 points to go along with five boards and two dimes.
"I thought it was a good step, even though we were down 14, 15 to start the game," Estep said. "After that, we played right with them. Erase (the early deficit) and we're right there with the No. 1 team in the state. I felt good about our chances, we just didn't execute as well as we should've."