Jace Norton scored a game-high 24 points for the Falcons, who lost senior center Tabor Bosco to an injury in the third quarter

REVIEW/NEWS PHOTO: JIM BESEDA - La Salle Prep's Jace Norton (2) drives against St. Helens' Trenton Minich during the first half of Thursday's Northwest Oregon Conference boy's basketball game at La Salle Prep.La Salle Prep's Jace Norton scored 14 of his game-high 24 points in the first half, leading the Falcons to a 70-46 Northwest Oregon Conference boys' basketball home win Thursday over the slumping St. Helens Lions.

Justin North added 11 points and Nolan Grogan had eight for the Falcons, who jumped out to a 43-20 halftime lead and won for the seventh time in eight games.

The good news for the Falcons (13-10, 10-3 NWOC) is that they took over sole possession of second place and virtually locked up one of the league's two automatic berths into the OSAA Class 5A state playoffs with one game remaining in the regular season.

The bad news is they lost 6-foot-9 senior center Tabor Bosco, who injured his right ankle in the final minute of the third quarter and is doubtful for Friday's regular-season finale at Hillsboro.

"I thought we'd have a good effort," Falcons coach Sean Christensen said. "We were down a couple guys -- Nick Boyd and Alex Boyd -- so I told the guys they had to pick up the slack. Plus it was 'Senior Night,' so it was a good opportunity for the seniors to go play hard."

St. Helens stumbled to its fourth consecutive loss, dropping the Lions (11-12, 5-8) into fifth place heading into Friday's regular-season finale at home against league-leading Wilsonville.

"I think it all just came down to defense," Lions coach Jordan Massinger said. "La Salle played with a lot of patience on offense and we didn't jump the gaps and get to the spots we needed to get to. I guess the biggest problem is we didn't play with a sense of urgency.

"Our guys looked a little discombobulated today, a little disconnected, and La Salle played together."

La Salle closed the first quarter on a 15-3 run that ended with Rudy Massaad knocking down a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to give the Falcons a 21-7 lead.

"Defensively, we were really good," Christensen said. "We got going in transition and we got a lot of easy baskets. Then Rudy came off the bench and hit a transition 3, and when you have guys hitting rhythm shots like that, the offense can get going pretty good. But it started with our defense."

The Falcons continued to attack from long range in the second quarter with Leonardo Domingo, Gabrish, North and Massaad each knocking down treys that helped push the lead to 43-20 at halftime.

During the break, the discussion in the La Sallle locker room centered on what happened in the first meeting between the two teams in St. Helens. In that one, the Falcons jumped out to a 33-12 halftime lead, then turned the ball over 17 times in the second half and momentarily lost the lead before pulling out a 50-48 road win.

"Our message at halftime was, 'Let's not have a repeat of what happened at St. Helens,'" Christensen said. "Maybe I scared them a little bit or something, but we were not going to play the same way that we played at their place."

Dominic Pisaneschi and Gabrish helped make sure of that, hitting 3-pointers at the start of a 17-8 run that gave the Falcons their largest lead of the night at 60-28 with just over a minute to play in the third quarter.

Then with 57.3 seconds left in the third, Dow drove to the basket for St. Helens and was fouled by Bosco, who landed awkwardly on his right ankle and ended up face down on the floor in obvious pain.

At that point, the outcome of the game had been decided, so the question became what does the loss of Bosco mean for the Falcons moving forward?

"I don't know how bad it is," Christensen said. "I hope it's not too serious. If we don't have Tabor for the major of that game, we don't win, because we don't have anyone else that can guard Jacob Falk.

"You take a 6-9 kid out of the lineup, it changes a lot of things defensively because he can contest so many shots and he bothers people just being around the basket. So not having that presence changes a little bit how we have to defend and how we will defend."

And how much will Bosco's absence alter the offense?

"We don't have somebody sitting on the block when we start offense," Christensen said. "So, we'll probably spread people out more than we would with Tabor in the middle."

As for St. Helens, the Lions appeared destined to finish in fifth place, which means they will be playing a road game in the OSAA Class 5A play-in round.

"In my mind, I'm confident that we can play with anybody on any night, it doesn't matter who is it in the state," Massinger said. "I truly feel that way about these guys. The question is, are they going to bring their best effort? Tonight wasn't it and I don't even know if they could have dug deep enough to get it.

"I think at this point of the season, regardless of if you're winning or losing, it's that killer instinct that I really am wondering about. Do they still have it?"

ST. HELENS 7 13 14 12 -- 46

LA SALLE PREP 21 22 17 10 -- 70

St. Helens (46) -- Derek Dow 14, Falk 13, Rea 8, Wolfe 6, Beatty 3, Erceg 1, Wetherbee 1, Knoke, Minich.

La Salle Prep (70) -- Jace Norton 24, North 11, Grogan 8, Bosco 7, Gabrish 6, Massaad 6, Pisaneschi 5, Domingo 3.

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