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Hillsboro's junior post the hub of the offense and scores 18 points to turn back Indians' shot at first 5A league win

HILLSBORO — The Scappoose Indians had a chance Friday night to get their first win in Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference boys basketball.

But down the stretch, Hillsboro took away that chance.

Nursing a 29-25 lead going into the fourth quarter, the Spartans played near-flawless, conservative offense and made 11 of 12 free throws in the final 4 minutes and 53 seconds to win at home, 44-37.

"We finally finished a ballgame," Hillsboro coach Mark Ganter said. "We had a similar game against Milwaukie a few nights ago, and we let it slip away (in a 68-67 road loss). This time, the kids realized what was at stake, matured a little bit and finished it off."

The Spartans improved to 2-6 in the NWOC and 5-13 overall.

Scappoose, which moved up from 4A this school year, fell to 0-8 in the conference and 2-15 for the season.

The Indians hadn't won since before Christmas — their victories came against 4A Astoria 48-42 at Scappoose on Dec. 7 and versus 3A Scio 54-41 in a North Marion tournament on Dec. 20.

Coming into Friday, Scappoose had only one league loss by fewer than 10 points. Hillsboro won at Scappoose 45-35 on Jan. 8.

Both coaches said the rematch was similar to the first meeting.

"We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game and it was going to be physical," Ganter said.

"It was a fun game," Scappoose coach Matt Humphreys said. "We made a few more shots this time to make it a little closer."

Hillsboro's Nate Smith was the difference-maker on Friday. The 6-5 junior pivot led all scorers with 18 points. He added nine rebounds, including six on offense, where Hillsboro had a 15-9 edge that led to a 12-4 advantage in second-chance points.

"Great team win. Very exciting. Fun game all the way down to the end," Smith said.

The Spartans were able to run their offense through Smith, who wheeled and dealed from the free-throw line as the hub of the attack.

"I was just trying to do whatever I could to help my team win," he said.

Humphreys said Smith's offensive arsenal caused some problems for the Scappoose defense.

"Their big guy was able to do some things off the dribble from the top of the key," Humphreys said. "His ability to get to the basket from the top is probably what hurt us the most. He made plays for open shooters."

Smith also delivered the dagger — eight daggers, in a way, as he went 8 for 8 on free throws in the closing 3:56. The first three of those four trips to the line were one-and-ones with Scappoose still breathing down the Spartans' neck.

"I'm that money — I've been working on my free throws," said Smith, 10 of 13 overall at the line (Scappoose was 7 of 11).

And, right before the start of that free-throw string, Smith gave Hillsboro the lead for good when he rebounded a teammate's missed 3-point try and hit the put-back. That basket made the score 31-30 for the Spartans with 5:42 remaining.

Smith, a standout tight end in football, said he likes both sports.

"I love both," Smith said. "I probably couldn't pick a favorite. Both are great fun, great team sports, just a fun time all around."

"Nate is an athlete," Ganter said. "He's one of the best players in the league."

Vincent Felder Jr., a 6-0 senior guard, added nine points for Hillsboro, and 6-1 junior guard Kane Kiaunis had seven points plus game highs of 12 rebounds and four assists.

Guard Jordan Buchanan, a 6-0 senior, paced Scappoose with 14 points, banking home a couple of long shots as the Indians hit 8 of 21 from beyond the arc (to 4 of 26 by Hillsboro).

Off the bench, 6-0 junior Jake Boyle was next in scoring for the Indians, with eight points. Connor McNabb, the Indians' 6-0 senior guard, had four assists.

"Every game, I feel like we're making progress," Humphreys said. "Losing a close one is better than getting blown out. I felt like we were competitive and in the game. I just want the kids to have a chance to win. They felt like they had a chance to win tonight, which, for us, is a good feeling."

The game was tight all the way — Hillsboro's largest lead was 24-17, early in the third quarter, and the Indians never led by more than three.

A key sequence came late in the first half. Scappoose charged into a 17-14 lead on a 3 from the left corner by Kyle Negelspach, a long 3 by Buchanan and a 17-footer off the dribble by Boyle. But Hillsboro outscored the Tribe 7-0 over the final 3:07 for a 21-17 halftime lead. To cap that run, 5-5 sophomore guard Elliot Hildner tossed in a 3 as time ran out.

"The end of the second quarter hurt," Humphreys said. "We made three straight mistakes, and then they hit the shot at the buzzer. You don't think it's a big deal at the half, because you've got another half to go. But in a game that was tied or so close, it's a big deal."

Having the lead after three quarters, even if it was only 29-25, made a difference. Hillsboro was able to slow down the game from the start of the fourth quarter, play for good shots and make the Indians come out of their zone defense.

"Once we had the lead, we knew they had to come get us," Ganter said. "Then they had to foul us at the end, and things worked out. To get a win like this … the kids needed it."

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