The Beaverton boys basketball team is off and running—kind of.
In the wake of one of the program's most successful seasons in recent years, one that included a Metro League championship and a culmination tournament victory with wins over Roosevelt, Sherwood and state power Grant, the Beavers have something to prove after losing standouts Dane Erikstrup and Finn Barkenaes to graduation. And they took a step in that direction with a 54-52 comeback win over Central Catholic in the opening game of the 25th annual Les Schwab Invitational Monday afternoon, Dec. 27, at Liberty High School.
"This team returns seven guys from last year's team that won the Red Bracket, won the Metro and didn't lose a game all summer, and they see the polls come out and predictions, and they feel like we need to get our respect," Beaverton head coach Andrew Vancil said. "We use that as bulletin board material and these kids want to prove it was a program effort. There's definitely an edge to them for sure."
The Beavers trailed 22-21 at the half and found themselves down 39-26 after three quarters thanks in large part to a handful of near misses at the rim and a bigger, more athletic Rams team lead by Luke Johnson and Jordan King.
Johnson—who finished with 22 points—was a load for the undersized Beavers, and King's athleticism in the open court led to a couple of dunks and ultimately a 13 point lead to start the fourth quarter. But Beaverton—behind a big three-pointer from Max Elmgren and the all-around play of Brady Rice â€“ fought back to tie the game with 31 seconds remaining on the clock.
Central Catholic held the ball until the clock ticked under 10 seconds before Riley Williams inadvertently threw the ball off of the backboard, leading to a breakout with Rice in the open court, where he was fouled on a lay-up attempt by the Rams' Jordan King, sending Rice to the free throw line with less than a second on the clock—where the senior made two to end the game.
"I was just thinking I had to make a lay-up," Rice said about the final sequence. "He hit me in the head and I stepped up and made two big free throws. Even though I tried to miss the second one."
The game turned when the Beavers amped-up their defense, pressuring the bigger Rams in the full-court and creating the turnovers necessary to flip the game. With it the momentum slowly changed and with every Beaverton basket the Beavers got more loose, while the Rams seemed to tighten up.
"We were down 15 with no shot clock, but we just stuck with it and pulled it out," Rice said. "We just kind of started pressing, got a few tips, flipped the momentum and started hitting shots down the stretch for a big win."
The magnitude of the win wasn't lost on Vancil who spoke to what it might mean for the team going forward.
"It was a great, character defining win for us," the coach said. "We just kept talking in our timeouts about not giving up. As long as you've got time on the clock…just keep fighting, keep fighting. So I was just proud of the kids for competing and not giving up."
Vancil—who said prior to the season that his team would likely play faster this season—spoke to their slower pace to start the game as something that was both calculated and possibly a mistake.
"We knew the strength of their team was inside, but also that their guard play was a little shaky at times," Vancil said. "We were kind of waiting to trap and press in the second half, and probably should've thrown it on them a little earlier, but they struggled with some of the pressure and we took advantage of it."
In the end, the Beaver players and coach were happy to get the win, and after looking dead to rights for most of the second half, even happier to do so in the fighting manner in which they did it.
"Just really proud of the kids for competing and not giving up," Vancil said. "I have some great senior leaders with Keenan Apperson, Philip Rosenfeld, and Trevon Hamilton, and they just kept fighting. Central is a great team and physical as heck, and one of the bigger teams we're gonna play, and for us to rebound with them and just stay in the game was very, very good."
Beaverton scorers included: Brady Rice 22, Rosenfeld 14, Elmgren 6, Apperson 5, Aiden Rice 5, Hamilton 2.
Central Catholic scorers included: Johnson 22, King 13, Isaac Carr 5, Riley Williams 5, Anthony Angelo 3, Aiden Slater 2, Emar'rion Winston 2.
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