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The young Buckaroos commit 16 turnovers in the first round loss at North Clackamas Christian

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - St. Paul boys basketball's Logan Connor, top, tries to pass the ball to a teammate while North Clackamas Christian's Luke Nelson tries to poke it away Feb. 22, 2022 during the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs at North Clackamas Christian School.

It took until the fourth quarter, but the strong perimeter team that North Clackamas Christian boys basketball has been all year finally came through. And it came with the Saints season on the line.

Trailing 26-25 to visiting St. Paul in the first round of the Class 1A state playoffs on Feb. 22, Issac Minne got the ball and an open look from deep. The normal sharpshooter hadn't made a 3-ball game.

This time, Minne's high-arcing shot hit nothing but net, and it was all Saints from there.

NCC went on to outscore the Buckaroos 18-9 in the final frame to take home the 43-35 win and advanced to the second against Crosshill Christian on Friday.

"We're a perimeter-oriented team and we're a team that counts on making outside shots, when we don't make outside shots it's kind of tough," Saints coach Grant Nelson said. "It was fun that it happened at the beginning of the fourth quarter as opposed to the end of the fourth quarter because then it gave us a little bit to play with there."

Building the lead following the Minne 3-pointer was the game's leading scorer in Nelson's son and senior guard Luke Nelson.

Luke hit a three-pointer following Minne's to get the North Clackamas gym rocking, and then hit 5 of 8 free throws down the stretch when the Buckaroos started fouling to save time.

In addition to scoring, Luke was a pest on defense with seven steals that led to plenty of easy buckets that kept the Saints in it through the first three quarters despite the shots not falling.

"They were smart with their passes, but I was just trying to pick them apart with their dribbles," Luke said. "I thought I'd just get behind and poke it. It worked, just trying to do anything I can do."

While Luke caused havoc up top, the rest of the crew had to handle the Buckaroos' 6-foot-6 center Warren Rose.

Rose still finished with 16 points and 12 rebounds, but the Saints slowed him down enough to escape with the win, which included forcing St. Paul into 16 turnovers.

Having a senior-less roster attributed to those turnovers in the eyes of Buckaroos coach Kevin Baker, who saw tremendous progress this season from his squad.

"We got off to a late start (due to the football playoffs)," Baker said. "We had a couple guys banged up with knees from football, so we didn't get them until later on, closer to Christmas. We're a different team now. Some of the people we didn't have then and also, we got the time in practice to gel and just learn the game of basketball."

Getting into a playoff game might not have been expected a week ago for the Buckaroos, who finished the regular season third in the Casco League.

After losing to Willamette Valley Christian in the district playoffs, St. Paul had to come back and win two games just to qualify. That second game coming against that same Willamette Valley Christian team with the state spot on the line.

St. Paul escaped with a 41-35 win to get to the game versus North Clackamas. Leading the way all season has been Rose and the talent that comes with his 6-foot-6 frame.

"He's been a leader for us, he's just a beast down there," Baker said of Rose. "He was a facilitator (Tuesday). You saw in the second half, we made some adjustments at halftime to get him the ball at the high post and you saw him turn and make great decisions.

"That hasn't always been his strong point, he's been a good scorer, so he made great decisions in the second half and I was proud of him for that."

The season ends for the Bucks in the first round of the state playoffs but there are no tears and no painful goodbyes with no seniors on the roster.

Instead, St. Paul ends the season in a great position to learn and be ready to absorb more going into the 2022-2023 campaign.

"They were just great learners," Baker said. "They listened and they did everything we asked them to do. One of the things we asked them to do was give us a great effort, just play. We figured if we could get them to play hard, eventually the basketball stuff we would start to learn."

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