It's early, but it's never too early for a good win.
The Tualatin boys basketball team — ranked second in the Coaches Poll — got that quality win over Jesuit, defeating the No. 4-ranked Crusaders in a non-league contest 59-54 Tuesday night, Dec. 14, at Tualatin High School.
The two teams played close for a quarter, the Timberwolves (4-0) slowly pulled away over the next two, then the home team hung-on as Jesuit pulled within three in the final two minutes.
Tualatin's Malik Ross led the way with 13 points, but the senior was part of a balanced Timberwolves attack that saw three players score in double-digits and three additional players score six or more points.
Timberwolves head coach Todd Jukkala was pleased overall with his team's performance offensively, but was equally or more satisfied with their effort on the defensive end where they held the Crusaders (4-1) to just nine second quarter points.
"They are a great team and program, so it was good to see us compete at that level with them," the coach said. "I thought we did a good job of staying aggressive on offense and had good moments on the defensive end of the floor."
Jesuit came out with a lot of energy early, getting outside production from junior wing Isaiah Crane and work in the paint from senior post Spencer McKelligon. But Tualatin answered with help from Ross and senior post Peter Burke who helped the home Wolves stay close, trailing just 17-14 after a quarter of play.
The Timberwolves doubled the Crusaders' output in the second quarter thanks in large part to Noah Ogoli who scored eight of his teams 18 points, six of which came from behind the arc, giving his team a 32-26 halftime lead.
It was more of the same in the third stanza where Tualatin built an eight point lead, but Jesuit scored seven of the fourth quarter's first nine points — five of which came from junior Drew Pedersen — to cut the Timberwolves' lead to 51-48 with seven minutes remaining on the clock.
Their was no panic in Tualatin however, and with the cool work of both Ross and Burke down the stretch, along with some late clutch free throws from Ogoli, the Timberwolves were able to hold off the Crusaders who never got closer than three again.
"I was pleased with the way we responded to their comeback effort," Jukkala said. "We had guys really manage the end of the game well and we haven't had a lot of time to work on that in practice. I believe that's a direct result of our senior leadership."
Jukkala did note his team's inability to often finish at the hoop as something they need to work on going forward, but at the same time noted that with just four games under their belt that there's still a lot of time to do what this team seems to really want to — get better.
"This team seems interested in seeing how good it can be, and we're constantly striving towards reaching our potential," the coach said.
Tualatin's game versus Jesuit marks the first of a four-game stretch consisting of three ranked opponents. Jukkala said he and his team welcome that challenge, citing the benefits which come from testing yourself against the best.
"Our preseason schedule is as tough as it has ever been," the coach said. "It allows our team to test itself every game and find out what our potential is. Having success against a great team and program like Jesuit allows us to get valuable experience that will help us reach our potential."
Tualatin scorers included: Ross 13, Jaden Steppe 11, Ogoli 10, Josiah Lake 8, Burke 7, Kellen Hale 6, Ashton Rose 4.
Jesuit scorers included: Crane 15, Pedersen 11, Tyree Blake 8, Mack Wall 7, McKelligon 6, Jake Gorman 3, Johnny Miller 2, Cade Collins 2.
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