Jefferson feels the pain of another finals defeat
A second runner-up finish in the state tournament merely meant double the pain for the Jefferson Democrats.
The Demos, who lost by one point to Portland Interscholastic League rival Grant in last year's Class 6A final, fell 71-66 to the streaking Jesuit Crusaders in Saturday's title game before 4,141 fans at Chiles Center.
At the end, the disappointed Democrats shed a few tears and took little consolation in their second-place trophy and medals.
"We just feel like we let each other down," Jefferson senior guard Marcus Tsohonis said.
The afternoon game was close throughout, but Jefferson's spurts were too infrequent and not long enough.
One of them came right out of the locker room at halftime, as Jeff turned a 33-29 decifit into a 41-35 lead. But a turnover on the next Demos possession and a Jesuit team that refused to crack combined to halt Jefferson's momentum.
The teams were tied at 49-49 when Jesuit's Aiden Williams, who made 5 of 8 3-pointers and led all scorers with 20 points, hit from beyond the arc.
The Democrats got to within 52-51, but Williams hit another deep 3, then fed Will Sheaffer for a three-point play. Jesuit then all but sealed the win with a spurt that bumped its lead to 64-53 with 1:41 remaining.
"There's not much to say — Jesuit came out with a lot of fire, and we didn't match their energy or their toughness," Jefferson coach Pat Strickland said.
Tsohonis and senior teammate Keylin Vance each scored 16 points. But Vance had just two points in the second half, and Tsohonis, only 90 percent healthy all season because of an ankle injury, according to Strickland, was 0 of 7 from 3-point range and 5 of 23 overall from the floor.
Nate Rawlins-Kibonge, a 6-7 sophomore post who joined Tsohonis on the all-tournament team, had a game-high 13 rebounds and 15 points, making all but his opening shot from the field.
But the Demos weren't sharp at the foul line (12 of 21, 57.1 percent), committed 10 turnovers while forcing only five, and struggled with Jesuit's quick double-teams inside and especially on Rawlins-Kobonge and 6-8 sophomore Kamron Robinson, who wound up with nine points.
The Jefferson defense wasn't able to contest enough Jesuit shots well enough, either. The fourth-ranked Crusaders (23-6) hit 8 of 18 from long range and outshot the Demos overall from the field, 46.3 percent to 41.4 percent.
"They're tough and disciplined," Tsohonis said. "They're so disciplined that their little guys can play and guard big guys. They play team defense and team offense. They're good."
Strickland put the blame on himself for his third-ranked team (24-6) coming up just short.
"Like I told (the players after game), what cost us the most is what I let slide all year long," he said. "Guys coming in and not prepping for the season, and disrespecting the game by maybe missing class or doing some off the court stuff that's hurting the team. I let all that go without severely punishing guys.
"This is the outcome when you don't prepare for a battle like this."
As in almost any close game, details made the difference.
"Some little things we didn't do," Strickland said. "Like we know Aiden Williams is a shooter — we've got to have a hand in his pocket so he can't get the shot off. One of our strategies was not to let him shoot the 3's.
"Also, we wanted to go inside, and when we did, our big guys didn't do a good job of handling the double-team. The bigs couldn't get the ball out of their hands to make a good, clean pass.
"And Jesuit just came out like the team that they are, like the program they are under Coach (Gene) Potter. They're going to make you earn it, they're going to play solid defense, they're going to knock some 3's down, they're going to run their motion. We let them do what they do, and this is the outcome.
"Every time we found a little niche, we would let them do something, like let Mr. Williams make a 3 or let them get a 50-50 ball.
"We didn't do a lot of little things to help us win a championship. We just did things we hadn't done the whole year … but we hadn't played a Jesuit in the playoffs, either."
Jefferson comes into every season with a state championship the goal — and a realistic goal. Second place, therefore, can be a letdown. Even a big letdown.
This time, it led to second-guessing by a coach who has led the Demos to the Promised Land plenty of times.
"I always tell the guys at the beginning of the year, you're either going to have confetti fall on you or have tears fall on you," Strickland said. "And throughout the whole year I did a bad job of managing these guys and a bad job of just not holding them accountable.
"Next year is going to be a lot different. I've got to hold guys accountable. I've got to hold things that are going on in my program accountable.
"It was just bad preparation all year. We'd been getting by just on talent. But you run into a buzzsaw, and that stuff starts seeping out, and this is the result."