There was a moment on the court when things felt dire for a Gresham boys basketball team that saw a 19-point lead over the bottom-ranked team in the Mt. Hood Conference evaporate in the stretch of about 10 minutes.
But Gresham held off Sandy 66-55 in a back-and-forth game Tuesday evening, Feb. 15.
It was the little things for the Gophers — leaving shooters open, bad fouls, untimely turnovers, frustrations with the officials — that left the door open, and Sandy was more than happy to surge back into the contest.
Late in the second quarter the Pioneers showed their first signs of life with an inspired 10-point run to cut the deficit to 36-24, including back-to-back three pointers by sophomore Marcos Ramirez and senior Angel Tello Tello. Then, in the third quarter, the underdogs tied the game 40-40 with 3:26 on the clock with a strong halfcourt offense that found open shooters, outscoring Gresham 19 to 11 in the third frame.
With their backs against the wall and the Pioneers finding their second wind, Gresham star junior point guard Esyah Pippa-White gathered his team in the huddle.
"I just made sure no one was down and everyone's heads were held high," he said. "We were slacking in the second quarter, making little mistakes, but we all knew we could turn it around."
Halfway through the fourth quarter, the Gophers shifted into high gear. After being tied 49-49, Gresham outscored the visitors 17-6, with many of the points coming down in the paint with easy looks set up by the driving Pippa-White and junior Donavon Ferguson, who matched his usual defensive ferocity with a spurt of offense late, scoring eight points in the fourth quarter.
"I think we performed well, especially down the stretch," said Pippa-White, who scored a game-high 23 points, of which 16 came in the first half.
For the Gophers, Ferguson scored 13 points, senior Terence Anderson had 12 points and junior Scotty Riddle added eight points.
For the Pioneers, Ramirez had a team-high 17 points, while his backcourt partner, Tello Tello, had 14 points, including a trio of 3-pointers.
The Gophers led 20-7 early, holding Sandy to only a pair of made shots from the floor. Pippa-White also shined, scoring seven unanswered points with a steal leading to a layup, pair of made free throws, and a 3-pointer.
But Sandy never stopped fighting. For much of the game the Pioneers played with better energy, thanks in large part to senior forward Spencer Brozstek, who hustled on the glass, played strong defense and cheered on his team.
For its part, Gresham played strong defense even as the offense lagged during the comeback.
"Defense is the main thing we focus on as a team," Pippa-White said. "Our goal is to be the number one team in the state on the defensive-end."
With the win, Gresham (13-8, 9-4 League) is on a four-game win streak, including big victories over Barlow and Clackamas, as it strives for the postseason. Meanwhile Sandy (2-18, 1-13 League) had to settle for a near-upset.
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