Star guards, friends clash as Barlow basketball beats Gresham 48-46
In a duel between two of the top guards in the Mt. Hood Conference, a freshman scoring phenom got the better of the reigning player of the year as Barlow boys basketball beat Gresham by a single bucket on the road.
While Bruin Jalen Atkins and Gopher Esyah Pippa-White are friends off the court, playing for the same club team and living together for a time, from the opening tip Tuesday evening, Jan. 11, neither pulled punches in an emotional contest between the rivals. Both teams weren't afraid to dive for loose balls and played tough, physical defense with lots of fouls.
"Playing against Esyah makes me better," Atkins said with a grin. "He is a talented player and a great guy, so it was fun to face off against him."
Atkins, who had a game-high 18 points, was a steady presence for Barlow throughout the game with his smooth shooting stroke. In the fourth quarter, as Gresham erased a double-digit deficit and threatened to take the lead, it was the Bruins freshman who came up with big plays time and time again.
Midway through the fourth Atkins knocked down two back-to-back three-pointers in a row, both seemingly the nail in the coffin, but both times Gresham answered with three pointers of their own — first by junior Donavon Ferguson and then junior Scotty Riddle off a Pippa-White assist.
"I've been in close situations like this before, so I know to stay calm and have confidence in myself," Atkins said.
With 35 seconds left, Pippa-White cut it to a four-point deficit at the free throw line, and Gresham junior Amari Johnson drew a charge to regain possession. But the Gophers failed to score on the ensuing possession, and a late layup wasn't enough to overcome the deficit.
Barlow (6-4, 1-0 League) was able to survive Gresham (4-6, 0-2 League) with a 48-46 victory.
"It was super fun to play against Gresham; that is a team I grew up watching," Atkins said.
While his scoring numbers were quiet, with 11 points, Pippa-White made an impact elsewhere on the court. He played smothering defense, collecting a handful of blocks and steals, and assisted on many of his team's buckets down the stretch.
The Gopher point guard also made a ferocious entrance onto the box score with a two-handed dunk off a fast break in the second quarter that sent the crowd roaring to its feet. He followed that up with a twisting, athletic driving layup to beat the buzzer headed into halftime.
On the other end it was Barlow's pair of senior bigs, forward Nathan Jones and center Jesse Jones, who made the difference alongside Atkins. Both Nathan and Jesse imposed their wills on the backboard, pulling down rebounds and giving their squad multiple second-chance points.
"Nathan and Jesse are the definition of being hardworking and humble," Atkins said. "Every game they come out, do their job, and get big rebounds for us."
For Barlow, Nathan Jones scored 17 points, senior guard Connor Hills had 6 points and Jesse Jones added 4 points.
For Gresham it was a balanced attack. Riddle scored 11 points, sophomore RJ Alexander had 9 points and junior Ulises Gutierrez added 8 points. Defensively, Ferguson served as the spearhead, with big plays that visibly frustrated Barlow's guards.
Atkins and Pippa-White will face off at least one more time this season. The Gophers and Bruins will play in a rematch Monday, Feb. 11, at Barlow High.
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