Central Catholic's Marley Zeller rises for two of his 22 points in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Barlow. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Central Catholic's Marley Zeller rises for two of his 22 points in Thursday's quarterfinal win over Barlow. (Photo by Jon Olson)

HILLSBORO – No. 1 Central Catholic set the tone for what promises to be a season-long skirmish with No. 2 Barlow on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Les Schwab Invitational boys basketball tournament.

The Rams (6-1) rode the offensive firepower of senior guard Marley Zeller and junior guard Isaac Carr and used their length and athleticism to stifle their Mt. Hood Conference rival 77-65 at Liberty High School.

After losing two thrillers to Barlow last season – one on a late four-point play and the other in double overtime – Central Catholic was eager to gain the upper hand against the reigning conference champion Bruins (6-1).

“Getting the first win is good, just like, this is how it's going to be in the conference, too,” Zeller said. “Going into that first game in the conference, in two weeks, now they know what we're going to be like.”

Rams coach David Blue said he knows the series against Barlow “is going to be a battle.”

“We could see them maybe four times,” Blue said. “Of course we really wanted to get this one. I feel really good. I'm really happy with the boys. They competed and really played together.”

The 6-foot-3 Zeller, who has signed with Pepperdine, and the 6-4 Carr, who has committed to Oregon, took turns igniting the offense for the Rams, who advanced to a Friday semifinal against Columbus of Miami. Zeller scored 16 of his team-high 22 points in the first half. Carr scored 14 of his 18 points in the second half.

Carr and Zeller are averaging 18.9 and 14.7 points, respectively, this season.

“I think we can be super dangerous,” said Carr, who also had nine rebounds and four assists. “I think we're one of the best backcourts in the state. He started off super good, and he kind of carried us on offense for the first part of the game. Big shout out to him. Thanks to him. We don't win this game without him.”

Barlow junior guard Jalen Atkins started hot, scoring 15 points in the first quarter, as the Bruins led 20-16. But the Rams adjusted by running multiple defenders at him, holding him without a basket in the second and third quarters, to take control of the game.

Atkins finished with a 21 points on 7-of-22 shooting, including 2 of 12 from three-point range. He entered the tournament averaging a team-high 19.8 points.

“I knew he was going to come out aggressive,” Blue said of Atkins, who scored five points in a first-round win over Mountainside. “We made some mistakes defensively, just not focusing. But in the second quarter on, we sort of clamped down, made some defensive adjustments. And we're just really athletic. We made him take some tough shots.”

Duce Paschal, a 6-5 junior guard, led the defensive charge against Atkins, and he had plenty of help. The Rams reacted quickly to cut off Atkins' driving lanes and forced him into contested jumpers.

“We play really hard on defense,” Carr said. “We kind of take pride in that. I think it shows. That's where it all starts, on defense, for us.”

The Rams are bigger and stronger than last season, when they finished 15-13 and lost in the 6A quarterfinals. Their athleticism and experience is a potent mix.

“We've been talented, but we haven't been experienced,” Blue said. “Part of it is how hard they've worked. They made a commitment. … And they're getting older. They're 17, 18, instead of 15, 16 now.”

Central Catholic hit the weight room hard in the offseason.

“I've been working, and I know everyone else has,” Zeller said. “We're all experienced. We know what it's like to lose. So we know what we want. We're just really motivated to go far this year, kind of prove ourselves.”

Zeller's third three-pointer of the first half gave the Rams a 36-33 lead at intermission. Sophomore Jalen Nicholson and Paschal made three-pointers early in the second half as Central Catholic slowly pulled away, pushing the lead as high as 14 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Paschal added 14 points for Central Catholic. The Rams shot 11 of 22 from three-point range, led by Paschal (4 of 5) and Zeller (3 of 9).

“A lot of those were contested,” Barlow coach Tom Johnson said of Central Catholic's deep shooting. “They're good. You've got to give them credit. They were better than we were today, that's for sure.”

The teams next meet in a conference game at Barlow on Jan. 12.

“We've got to match them physically,” Johnson said. “They're so physical. We've got to be more physical, and we have to be a little more disciplined offensively. But a lot of our struggles offensively were because of them. They are athletic.”

Junior forward Mason Bierbrauer had 21 points, six rebounds and four assists and junior forward Brayden Barron added 10 points for Barlow. The Bruins shot 6 of 26 from three-point range.

LSI quarterfinals

Columbus (Fla.), Perry (Ariz) and Harvard-Westlake (Calif.) also advanced with quarterfinal wins at the LSI on Thursday. ... Columbus routed No. 7 Beaverton 83-54 behind Cameron Boozer, who put up 33 points and 19 rebounds. Aidan Rice led the Beavers with 23 points, making five three-pointers. ... Perry defeated Mt. Spokane (Wash.) 72-61 as D'Andre Harrison and Koa Peat scored 23 and 20 points, respectively. ... Harvard-Westlake dominated No. 5 Southridge 77-43, opening a 42-13 lead at half. Southridge got 12 points from Kaden Groenig.