By WADE EVANSON/PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP
PORTLAND -- They say defense wins championships, and with a league title and bragging rights on the line, Jesuit did it just a little bit better than crosstown rival Beaverton.
The host Crusaders (16-8, 10-2) held the Beavers to just seven first-half points, survived a heroic comeback, then outscored the visitors 13-4 in overtime to win the game and the Metro League boys basketball championship 44-35 Thursday night.
In a game between two of the state’s best team defenders, Crusaders coach Gene Potter said he knew -- and talked about with his team -- that the winner would likely be decided by the team or player that made the play that mattered most, when it mattered most, and tonight that team was wearing green and white.
“They do such a good job that we knew we were going to have to really lock in possession by possession,” Potter said. “They take care of the ball, they execute, are fundamentally sound and they compete. We said they’re going to make some plays, we just need to make a few more.”
Beaverton head coach Andrew Vancil thought similarly, but added that he thought the difference in the game really came down to physicality, and in that department he said they didn’t measure up.
“I thought we played hard, but not hard enough,” Vancil said. “I feel like they beat us to every loose ball. They were a little bit tougher, rebounded a little bit better, and that type of scrap is the difference in an overtime game.”
Neither team did much offensively in the first quarter, and little more in the second as Jesuit took a 13-7 lead to the half.
The third quarter saw things pick up as Crusaders point guard Isaiah Crane and Cade Collins warmed up on the offensive end, while senior forward Spencer McKelligan did work on the boards, providing Jesuit with extra possessions while limiting those of the visiting Beavers.
The Beavers (17-6, 9-3) also picked up the pace offensively, creating opportunities for sophomore guards Aidan Rice and Max Elmgren, who found creases in the Jesuit defense by way of the quicker first step they lacked over the game’s first 16 minutes.
“I just thought the ball was sticking in the first half,” Vancil said. “We were letting the defender square up before trying to drive in that first half, so in the second we really just put an emphasis on spacing and getting the ball moving.”
And it worked.
After falling behind by as many as 14 points, the Beavers cut the lead to seven at the end of three quarters and tied the game 28-28 when Rice scored two of his team-high 16 points midway through the final stanza.
Jesuit took back the lead a possession later when Collins finished at the rim with just under four minutes remaining in regulation, and after the Crusaders’ Tyree Blake and Beaverton’s Trevon Hamilton each split a pair of free throws in the final minutes, Jesuit’s Drew Pedersen’s last second three-point attempt rattled in-and-out, sending the game to overtime.
“I was impressed by the way we battled back,” Vancil said. “I think the importance of the game and having a packed gym was a lot for some of the sophomores early, but they picked it up and it was good to see that.”
Potter wasn’t surprised by the comeback, and in fact to an extent expected it.
“We always talk about that when you have a lead against a good team, they’re going to make a run,” the Jesuit coach said. “We tell our guys to treat every possession as a special possession, and when they make that run don’t make the quick play. That’s when you have to settle down and make a better play.”
Jesuit struck early in the overtime period, getting a three-ball from Crane on the opening possession. From there Beaverton just couldn’t get a shot to fall, and the Crusaders built the lead to nine and ultimately iced the game at the free throw line, with Crane making six from the charity stripe down the stretch.
Crane was obviously pleased with the result and boiled the win down to two rather simple things.
“Defense and intensity,” the Jesuit guard said. “We wanted to win and I think we just wanted it more.”
Potter said his players wanted this league title and hoped that seeing the result of their hard work would pay dividends as the state playoffs approach.
“We dug ourselves in a hole early in this season and to be able to work hard and get better shows this team’s resiliency,” he said. “We kept talking about trusting the process and working hard, and to get a trophy at the end is pretty rewarding and a good way to go into the postseason.”
Vancil was equally hopeful of what his team can still accomplish, and despite the Metro League title slipping through their fingers, he knows this game will help them going forward.
“Anytime you can play in a packed gym for a championship it’s going to help you,” Vancil said. “We’re going to be in tough environments going forward and now these guys understand that a couple plays here or a bounce there can be the difference between a win and a loss.”
Jesuit scorers included: Crane 16, Collins 9, Blake 6, Pedersen 4, McKelligon 4, Jake Gorman 3.
Beaverton scorers included: Aidan Rice 16, Hamilton 9, Keenan Apperson 4, Elmgren 3, Brady Rice 2, Cristian Gonzalez 1, Philip Rosenfeld 1.