McClean, Mountainside boys basketball clutches up, beats Westview
As the final seconds of the fourth quarter ticked away, a hyped-up Mountainside head coach Dustin Hewitt sashayed down the Maverick sideline and hammered every single player on the bench with a huge right-handed high five and a subsequent euphoric whoop toward the Westview High ceiling.
This was no run of the mill Metro League victory. This was the biggest win in Mountainside program history to date, a 57-52 road triumph over a Westview team many picked to win Metro in the preseason, an advisory that the Mavericks, despite their masses of naysayers, just might be bona fide Class 6A state tournament participants. On a Friday night, before an electric Pack The Pit crowd, the youngish Mavericks took a huge step forward toward proving they're worthy of the public's attention now and moving forward.
"We hope it's a statement, honestly," Mountainside senior forward Bennett Giebels said. "A lot of people looking at the Metro League saw us and thought 'Oh no, they're not good. They're bottom three (in Metro). Forget about them. They're nothing'. They doubted us from the start. We saw that and that motivated all of us. They didn't know our connection. We can all play as a team. We're like brothers. We wanted everyone who doubted us to know we're legit."
Mountainside beat Westview without just a star or two dominating the contest. They did so with strength in numbers, getting critical bench contributions from Sam Cohen, Nzube Mekkam, Nathan Mouzong and Mitch Rose when starters Connor McClean, Andrew Ingalls and Grayson Rowell all picked up their fourth fouls in the first two and a half minutes of the third quarter. When Westview erased Mountainside's 26-18 halftime lead with big buckets from London Smalley, Wayne Jamison and Zach Coalson to take a 37-36 lead at the end of three, the Maverick bench mob rose to the challenge. Cohen, Mekkam and Mouzong changed the complexion of the game in the fourth and the second half as a whole with relentless dribble penetration, crafty passing around Westview's zone defense and clever finishing around the rim. Giebels made two big threes to start the fourth, but the senior was even more impressed with the Mavs' supporting cast that spurred a 12-0 run and gave Mountainside a 51-41 lead with just over four minutes to go in the fourth. In all, Mountainside's second unit accounted for 25 points and six assists, all of which were supercritical as its seasoned seniors were stuck to the pine with the aforementioned fouls. Cohen tied for a team-high 13 points.
"They were huge," McClean said of Mountainside's bench. "When their number was called, they made the most of their minutes and made some big-time plays."
Mountainside has multiple options to go to off the bench, guys who could be casted as starters but come in and infuse the game with energy, playmaking, whatever the game dictates. It's an invaluable asset to be so deep. If a starter doesn't have it on a given night, somebody else is ready to step in without a drop-off. Or, as was the case against Westview, if a starter is saddled with foul trouble, his understudy is waiting and rearing to go in the wings.
"When we go five-on-five in practice, it's a dogfight," Giebels said. "We don't have five people on our team who are way better than the other five. We have 10 people that we can run at any time."
Westview wouldn't go down without a fight, however. With Smalley, Jamison, Jalen Grable and Brady Grier turning up the heat with a fullcourt trap, the Wildcats sprung six quick points off takeaways to make it 51-47 with 3:32 left in the fourth. Then Grable leaped high above the trees for a putback to bring Westview within 51-49 as Mountainside simply could not solve Westview's relentless defensive hounding all over the floor. The Mavericks turned the ball over on five straight possessions at one point. They were forced to call two timeouts just to alleviate the Wildcats' defensive stress. But after a takeaway, Grable's potential go-ahead three just spun out and around the rim.
After collecting the board, Mouzong and Giebels were able to break Westview's press at last by moving the ball briskly up the floor to Ingalls. The big man turned and faced the rim and found an open McClean along the right baseline. But rather than pull the ball back out and try to milk the clock, McClean went to the rim with authority and converted the layup through contact, plus the foul. Then the senior forward finished the clutch three-point play to extend Mountainside's once slim edge to 54-49 with 1:08 left in the fourth.
"We just attack with tenacity," McClean said. "(Hewitt) doesn't hold us back. He wants us to attack the rim. We practice finishes all the time in practice, so the and-one was no big deal."
In crunch time, McClean came up huge. After his and-one, the forward pulled down a defensive board and on the next trip down stole a Wildcat pass along the baseline. Ingalls missed the two subsequent free throws, but on the second miss, McClean squeezed in between two pinching Wildcats on the free throw box out attempt, muscled inside to get to the ball and somehow banged the orange off a Wildcat's thigh out of bounds to maintain possession. Then Giebels made one of two at the free throw line to make it 55-49.
"It's just a winning mentality," McClean said. "We've had a great season so far, but no win is guaranteed. This is the Metro League, one of the toughest in the state, and we have to compete every time. Luckily, it went my way."
Two McClean free throws put the game away. Both Maverick seniors insisted the end of the contest was never in doubt, despite Westview's tsunamic tidal waves of takeaways and transition buckets. Smalley, Jamison and Grable gave it everything they had to get Westview back into the Metro affair. It felt like they were one hoop away from escaping with what would have been a huge result. Instead, Mountainside got its signature victory of the season with a blend of savvy veteran leadership and panache down the stretch.
"We have confidence in ourselves to finish off big games," McClean said. "We had some untimely turnovers, which is uncharacteristic for us. We just had to settle down, keep our composure. We slipped up for a second, but we got it back."
Mountainside (17-4 overall, 6-3 in Metro) now sits alone in second place in the conference with three games to go in the regular season. The Mavericks have a stout starting five, the deepest bench in Metro as evidenced by its clutch showing against the Wildcats and closers such as McClean and Giebels who can thrive under the hottest of white lights. Giebels scored 13 points against Westview, seven in the fourth. In just its second year of varsity existence, Mountainside is very much on the right path toward a top-eight seed in the 6A power rankings, which would ensure homecourt advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. As the new "it" school in the Beaverton area, no team has a better throng of student supporters, parents and community outpouring. Imagine the Mavericks hosting a home playoff game at The Stable, on a Saturday night in early March. Mountainside possesses the capacity and capability to do pull off that feat.
Westview (12-9 overall, 5-3 in Metro) has a tough slate ahead with road games against Sunset and Jesuit and a home showdown with Beaverton. But the Wildcats are a team nobody wants to play come postseason. They've lost their three league contests by eight points or less apiece. Their starters are junkyard dogs with uber athleticism and length. Grable had 12 points and 8 boards against Westview. Smalley had 11 points and five assits. Coalson came on a gave the Wildcats a lift with eight second half points. Aiden Grady is becoming a tough, rugged post defender down low. Head coach Mike Wolf will have the Wildcats ready the rest of the way. Westview will still have ample opportunities to climb back into the top-10 of the 6A power rankings if it can get on a roll here over the final two weeks.
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