Maintaining its standing among the top teams in the Pacific Conference, the Newberg High School boys basketball team picked up a nail-biting win over Liberty last week before falling to Sherwood in a competitive matchup.
The Tigers (11-8, 5-2 Pacific Conference) sit firmly in second place in the league, but the path to a league title is looking tougher after a second loss to the Bowmen this season.
Newberg beat Liberty 67-63 in overtime despite missing some of its key players due to injury and illness. Down eight points with three minutes to go, it appeared a game that was close throughout was shifting in favor of the Falcons, but coach Mark Brown said his team showed resolve and finished strong to force an extra period.
"We were tired and missing a few guys who normally play big minutes for us," he said. "We never gave up and gave ourselves a chance at the end. We executed our play at the end and got the ball to Spencer Lanier for a three at the buzzer. That sent it to overtime and was a lot of fun in front of our home crowd."
Lanier's clutch performance was one of the high points of a season in which he's largely led the Tigers on the court. The scoring load has been relatively even, though, even in the face of injuries and illness for other top contributors.
Newberg rode its momentum from the buzzer-beater into overtime and beat Liberty by four in the end, showcasing its ability to finish close games. That ability has been on display throughout league play and is why the Tigers are in the position they're in, Brown said.
"Liberty was scrappy," he added. "They don't have one guy they rely on and they spread the ball around. Credit to them for a hard-fought game."
The game against Sherwood was billed as a marquee matchup for more than a week. Both teams went into the contest with the mission of asserting themselves as the top team in the conference and high-powered Sherwood came in with an undefeated league record that included a 20-point win over Newberg on Jan. 24.
The Tigers kept it close this time around, but the scoring punch of Sherwood's star senior guard Jamison Guerra – who dropped 27 on the night – proved too much to handle and the Tigers lost 65-58. Still, Brown lauded his team's effort in a game he felt they executed to near perfection.
"I could not have been more proud of my guys and how they prepared," he said. "Even after the game when we lost, I talked to them about how proud I was of their effort. I will always be proud of a great effort and will never be disappointed with a loss under those circumstances."
Newberg shot 64 percent from the field and allowed just eight points in transition. Compare that final statistic to the 38 points in transition Sherwood scored last time around, which ended up being a significant difference in the blowout loss for Newberg.
This game was close throughout the first quarter before a second quarter run gave Sherwood a slight lead. The Bowmen's potent offense and stingy defense showed up in the second frame and it led to a halftime deficit that proved tough for Newberg to overcome.
"We executed almost perfectly," Brown said. "They out-scored us in the second quarter 18-5 and that ended up being the difference in the game. Take away that quarter, we won the other three quarters and that's a great effort given that we were missing some guys."
Despite a tough loss in a game they desperately needed for a league title, Brown said his team remains focused on its goal of getting into the postseason. As of Tuesday morning, the Tigers would be an automatic qualifier as the No. 2 team in their conference. They are also comfortably inside the at-large playoff picture with an overall ranking of No. 26 in the 6A classification.
Newberg hosts Forest Grove on Wednesday night before traveling to Century and Liberty next week. After that, the Tigers wrap up the regular season with a pair of home games against Glencoe and McMinnville on Feb. 25 and 28.
"You don't want to peak too early," Brown said. "You want to be playing your best basketball around mid-February and I think we're right where we want to be. We've still got a long way to go with these last two and a half weeks and there won't be any easy outs. All five of our games are winnable, but we have to be on our game."
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