Tualatin boys step up to top Jesuit
PORTLAND — The Tualatin High School boys basketball team had to be both physically and mentally drained.
After all, the Timberwolves were only about 18 hours removed from an intense, emotional, nail-biting, last-second heart-breaker of a loss to Barlow in a Class 6A state tournament quarterfinal thriller on Thursday.
It was anyone's guess how Tualatin would respond in its Friday morning consolation bracket semifinal game with Jesuit — especially if it turned out to be another closely contested battle.
Well, the Timberwolves answered that question loud and clear — in winning fashion.
Tualatin, stepping up in the clutch late in the game, especially on the defensive end of the court, powered its way to a 53-49 win over the Crusaders in a state tournament contest played at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
"It was tough. I wasn't sure how we'd come back," said senior Lucas Noland, a team captain and defensive standout for the Wolves. "It came down to who wanted the game more. It was two good teams, and we just came out on top. This was pretty important. It's funny, because we go into the playoffs, and goal No. 1 is to get a win, and goal No. 2 is to get to the tournament, then you're just happy to get here, but when you get here, you want to get a win."
"Oh, it's a big win," said Tualatin junior Jack Rose, who came off the bench to score 10 points in the victory. "Yesterday was an emotional game for us, and it's hard losing in the first round. We just had to get our minds right. And it's an early game, we had to get up early, but we came out and competed."
With the loss, Jesuit, the No. 2 team out of the Metro League, and the No. 8 team in the final OSAA power rankings, finished its season with a final overall record of 21-7. Tualatin, the No. 4 team out of the Three Rivers League, and the No. 12 team in the power rankings, improved to 19-9 with the victory. The Timberwolves also move on to face Southridge in the tournament fourth/sixth-place game, set to start at 10:45 a.m. Saturday at the Chiles Center.
"It's a huge deal." Noland said of getting to the fourth-place game. "Coach (Rick Osborn) talked to us before the tournament started and said our goal is to get to the last day of the year, and we're playing on the last day of the year. We're disappointed about yesterday, but it's still a huge accomplishment."
To get to Saturday's game, the Wolves had to defeat a talented Jesuit team. That's not an easy task, anytime, but Tualatin had to do so coming off Thursday's emotional setback. But, it was a fired-up Tualatin team that took charge in the early going.
With the game tied at 11-11, the Wolves got a 3-pointer by junior Caden Dickson, five straight points, including a 3-pointer, from Rose and a 3-pointer from junior Derek Leneve, giving Tualatin a 22-13 lead at the end of the first quarter.
"We got an early lead, which really helped us," Rose said.
Tualatin, following back-to-back baskets by sophomore John Miller and senior Nathan Platter, upped its lead to 28-17 with 5 minutes and 38 seconds left to play in the second quarter.
But Jesuit, with senior Sam Handley scoring six straight points, trimmed the margin to 30-24 at halftime.
The Crusaders kept chipping away in the third quarter. With Tualatin leading 35-29, following a layup by Miller off a Noland assist coming with 5:55 left in the period, Jesuit came roaring back.
Junior Aiden Williams sank a pair of 3-point baskets and Handley had two more hoops to key an 11-0 run, which gave the Crusaders a 40-35 lead with 2:00 left in the third quarter.
It was at that point that the Timberwolves could have folded. Instead, they did the opposite and battled right back. Tualatin junior post Bridger Steppe sank a 6-foot jumper, Dickson connected on a 3-pointer from the left corner and Rose went 2 for 2 from the free-throw line to give the Wolves a 42-40 lead with 34.7 seconds left in the period.
"That's kind of been the story for us all season," Noland said. "We've won some and we've lost some, but we always battle. We haven't really been blown out all season. We got down, and fought back."
Handley scored on a layup with one second left in the period, tying the game at 42-42 going into the fourth quarter.
That's when things really got intense.
Dickson opened the final stanza with another 3-pointer, from the right side off an assist by Rose. Soon after, Rose and Dickson scored back-to-back baskets, giving the Wolves a 49-44 lead with 5:07 left in the game.
Now, it was Jesuit's turn to battle back. The Crusaders, getting a free throw from senior Matthew Lang, another basket on a drive by Handley, and a follow-up hoop by junior Will Bieker, cut the Tualatin lead to 50-49 with 36 seconds left in the game.
Steppe was fouled with 23.9 seconds left to play and, as he as done in clutch moments throughout the season, he sank both of his ensuing free throws to up the Tualatin lead to 52-49.
Jesuit, trying to set up a potential 3-pointer, struggled to get a good look against the Wolves' pressure defense, and Handley was whistled for traveling with 4.4 seconds left to play.
Rose was then immediately fouled, and he went 1 for 2 at the stripe to make the score 53-49 with 3.3 seconds remaining.
"Oh yeah, I was definitely nervous," Rose said of his late free throws. "I just knew I had to get one to seal the deal. We were all happy."
A last second Jesuit desperation shot was off the mark, leaving the Wolves with the four-point victory.
"The focal point of our team has been our defense, because we're not the biggest team, and we're not the most offensively skilled team," Noland said. "But we're going to play together and we're going to talk, and we stuck to those principles down the stretch, especially that last possession. We buckled down."
"Oh yeah, big time, it was important to come back and win," Rose said. "And Jesuit's a really tough team. They trap and they're really aggressive on defense, so we knew we had to come out and compete."
The Crusaders certainly seemed to make an effort on defense to contain Tualatin senior guard Alexis Angeles, who scored 36 points in the tourney opener with Barlow. But, while Jesuit did limit Angeles to eight points, the Timberwolf star contributed in other ways, and other Tualatin players stepped up to fill the scoring void.
"It was great. Alexis knows how to get other players involved, which is one of his strengths, along with scoring," Rose said. "And guys like Caden stepped up, hitting big threes, and John, with his rebounding, has really helped a lot."
"Caden Dickson shot the ball really well, super happy for him and super proud of him," Noland said. "Jack Rose shot the ball well today. I'm proud of the way guys stepped up today."
Dickson, coming off the bench and going 3 for 4 from 3-point range, led a balanced Tualatin scoring attack in the victory with 11 points. Angeles had a team-high six rebounds and a pair of assists to go with his eight points. Miller and Steppe each scored six points. Leneve scored five points and senior Chris Freese had five rebounds, a steal and a blocked shot.
Tualatin, as a team, made 20 of 47 shots from the field, with six 3-pointers, and seven of 14 free-throw attempts.
Handley led all scorers in the contest with 16 points. Lang added 14 for the Crusaders.
Jesuit, as a team, made 18 of 54 shots from the field, with six 3-pointers, and seven of 11 free-throw attempts.
Metro League champion Southridge, which scored a 79-68 win over West Salem in Friday's other consolation semifinal, brings an overall record of 24-4 into Saturday's fourth place game.
"That's a big deal," Noland said of the fourth-place game. "We want to try and come away with some hardware. We feel good about our chances. We're thankful to have the opportunity, and we're ready to get after it on the last day of the year."
"We're playing for something now," Rose said. "Now we get to play for fourth, or sixth, that really means a lot to us."