PORTLAND – Fourth-seeded Lincoln didn't get many style points Thursday, but the Cardinals got the result they needed in the quarterfinals of the OSAA/OnPoint Community Credit Union 6A boys basketball tournament at the Chiles Center.
The Cardinals led No. 5 Gresham from the opening tip and appeared to have the Gophers subdued with a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, but had to survive a last-second three-point attempt to win 60-59 and advance to the semifinals for the first time in five years.
“It was very scary,” Lincoln coach Heather Seely-Roberts said. “But they missed, thank goodness.”
Lincoln senior Malachi Seely-Roberts said that despite the late letdown, “a win's a win.”
“At the end, we struggled a little bit handling their pressure once they started getting more physical,” he said. “We didn't respond with physicality, which is something we need to do. But we won, and that's all that matters.”
Senior Moroni Seely-Roberts led the way for the Cardinals (24-4), making 9 of 12 shots and finishing with 24 points, 13 rebounds and three assists. Malachi Seely-Roberts, his twin brother, hit four three-pointers and added 18 points.
Lincoln led 21-10 early in the second quarter and held off the Gophers (22-5), who pulled to within three points early in the third quarter. The Cardinals were up 58-48 when junior Isaac Margolis split two free throws with 2:20 left in the game.
That's when Gresham, in the quarterfinals for the first time since 1992, made a frantic rally. Junior RJ Alexander made two three-pointers to cut the lead to 58-56 with 32.9 seconds left. Senior Scotty Riddle hit another triple to draw the Gophers within 60-59 with 13 seconds to go.
Moroni Seely-Roberts missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity with 3.5 seconds on the clock, and Gresham rebounded and called timeout at 2.4 seconds. Gresham senior point guard Esyah Pippa-White dribbled past half-court and got off a running 25-footer, which glanced off the backboard and rim at the buzzer.
“It was the right shot by the right guy,” Gresham coach Corey Lockhart said of Pippa-White, who scored 17 points to match Alexander for team-high honors. “I thought it was going in. It rolled in and rolled out. But that's what I wanted.”
Moroni Seely-Roberts said he was “stressing” as the ball was in the air.
“I was like, 'Please don't go in, please don't go in,'” Moroni Seely-Roberts said. “I'm close friends with Esyah and I know his family and stuff. They're a great team, and he's a great player, but obviously we wanted to win.”
Heather Seely-Roberts was less than thrilled by how her team closed out the victory.
“I think part of it was my fault because I said, 'Let's take good shots,' so I think somehow my kids interpreted that as saying, 'Take no shots,'” she said. “I thought we went away from what we were doing well, which is Lincoln basketball, we like to run and stuff like that. I thought we just froze up, they did a really nice job, made some big threes.”
The Gophers never wilted despite playing uphill the entire game.
“They were getting layups and our shots weren't falling,” Lockhart said. “When our shots started falling, we came back. That's the way we play. It's either a layup or a three.”
The 6-foot-6 Moroni Seely-Roberts, the Portland Interscholastic League player of the year, used his size and muscle to bully the Gophers in the first half, scoring 18 points.
“We had the bigger team in the matchups,” he said. “We wanted to play to our advantage. My team did a great job passing me the ball and going inside, and I was able to finish inside.”
Heather Seely-Roberts, his mother, said that Moroni “lives for games like this.” His ability to put pressure on Gresham's defense offset his eight turnovers.
“I thought he got a little too hyped up because he had some uncharacteristic turnovers,” Heather Seely-Roberts said. “But he's not afraid of being physical. He's not afraid to go after it. He has people on him all the time. I thought he really delivered.”
Moroni Seely-Roberts made one of the headier plays in the game when Riddle's three-pointer cut the lead to one point with 13 seconds left. After the ball went through the basket, it bounced away on the baseline, and with the clock running, he took his time retrieving it.
By the time he inbounded and Gresham knocked the ball out of bounds, only 4.5 seconds remained on the clock.
“It's like having another coach on the floor,” Heather Seely-Roberts said of Moroni. “ He knows what to do.”
Graham Eikenberry, a 6-10 senior, added 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks for Lincoln. The Cardinals shot 53.5 percent from the field, including 6 of 17 on three-pointers.
Up next for Lincoln is a Friday semifinal date with top-seeded West Linn, a team the Cardinals have yet to play this season.
“I purposely scheduled us to play every good team in the whole state, except we haven't played West Linn,” Heather Seely-Roberts said. “We're excited about the opportunity.”
Said Malachi Seely-Roberts: “You always want to play the best team. And to reach the state championship, we're going to have to play them anyways. So why not play them next?”
The Cardinals believe they something different to offer the Lions than other contenders.
“What separates our team from a lot of these teams is our length and height,” Moroni Seely-Roberts said. “I don't think they've seen a team like all of us. I think we're the tallest team in the state. So I think we're able to give them something different and hopefully shock them a bit.”