ARLINGTON — Steve Johnson knew his Jackson basketball team was ready to return to the court as soon as he saw them.
The Timberwolves’ head coach met with his team after school and saw their eagerness to get back at it after their first loss since the 2013 4A state championship game.
A few hours after that meeting, Jackson — the No.1-ranked 4A team in the state by the Associated Press — got its season back on track with a 70-51 Wesco 4A victory over No. 8 Arlington Tuesday night at Arlington High School.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge,” Johnson said. “I thought we handled ourselves with a pretty high degree of maturity. I could tell after we met after school for a little walkthrough. I could see it in their eyes that they were going to be ready to play.”
The trio of Jason Todd, Brian Zehr and Dan Kingma led the way for the Timberwolves. Todd had a double-double with 11 rebounds and a game-high 24 points while Zehr scored 20 points and Kingma, Jackson’s point guard, ran the Timberwolves’ offense and added 13 points himself.
They were the only three Jackson players to score in the first half.
“I think we came in today with a little chip on our shoulder,” Zehr said. “That we have to prove it again. We want to prove we’re the best team in Wesco and just go out there and play our best.”
The Jackson players tried to look on the brightside after its 62-55 loss to Lincoln on Monday night in the King Holiday Hoopfest Tournament at Bellevue College, which ended a streak of 39 consecutive regular-season victories for the Timberwolves.
“I think it helped,” Zehr said of the loss. “I think it was actually a good thing for us. We used it as a learning experience. It’s never fun losing, but if you’re optimistic about it you can always learn something.”
Tuesday night, Jackson’s offense got off to a much faster start. Kingma hit a deep 3-pointer and Todd and Zehr each scored six points to give the Timberwolves a 15-14 lead at the end of the first quarter. Jackson began to pull away in the second thanks to five points from Kingma and another eight by Todd.
The Timberwolves had an 8-2 run to open the period before Arlington head coach Nick Brown was whistled for a technical foul. The technical led to two Todd free throws and a 3-pointer by Zehr as Jackson continued to put distance between itself and Arlington.
“We did manage to get easier baskets and share the ball much better with what the defense gave us,” Johnson said. “We got to the free throw line a lot. It was certainly a better offensive game for us.”
The loss was just the second of the season for Arlington and its first at home since the Eagles fell to Stanwood 64-57 on Feb. 3, 2012.
“We have a lot of pride here,” Arlington head coach Nick Brown said. “We’re not just going to go ahead and give anybody a game. We expect them to come in and take it from us. And they did.”
Gavin Smoke had 13 points for Arlington — all in the third quarter — as he tried to spark an Eagles’ comeback. Noah Jones had Arlington’s first seven points of the fourth quarter and finished with 13 as well.
Jones also had perhaps the biggest shot of the night for Arlington in the closing seconds of the first quarter. The Eagles’ Nathan Aune reached for a ball going out of bounce and saved it — by hurtling it behind his back — to Jones who put it up and into the net as the horn sounded.
After a brief discussion, the referees awarded the Eagles the basket, making it a one-point game.
Brown went down his roster, praising everybody for their effort against Jackson. “Gavin made some shots for us. I thought that Shawn Adams did a good job defending Kingma,” Brown said. “I thought Noah did a good job on the block against some pretty physical kids.
“That’s the thing about this group: they’re just a good, balanced group. I’ll go to battle with these guys any day.”
The two teams’ seasons share many similarities. Both Jackson (10-0 league, 14-1 overall) and Arlington average about 68 points per game, both have three scorers averaging double-digits and both came into Tuesday night with perfect 9-0 league records.
And most of all, both are trying to make it back to the state tournament.
“I certainly expected it to be a competitive game,” Johnson said. “We have a lot of respect for them and the season they’ve had and the teams they’ve beat. We’ll probably see them again.”
Arlington (9-1, 14-2) now finds itself in the position the Timberwolves were at before the game: looking to rebound from a loss and get back to its winning ways.
The chip that was on Jackson’s shoulder now appears to have switched sides, according to Brown.
“I just told them you’ve just got to put a chip on your shoulder,” Brown said. “We just lost home pride. We lost. This is something we don’t like to do. You guys need to get a little more hungry and find out what we’ve got to do. We’ve got teams coming to get us and we’ve got a target on our back.”
Jackson, meanwhile, said that the loss doesn’t change any goals they have for the season. The Timberwolves still want to win out and make it back to the Tacoma Dome and the state championship game.
The state championship was Jackson’s only loss last season. This year, the Timberwolves are hoping Monday’s game is the only time they stumble.
“This is definitely a morale booster and can help get us back on track,” Zehr said. “We still have the same goal. Nothing’s changed.”
At Arlington H.S.
Jackson–Nick Hovorka 0, Dan Kingma 13, Jason Todd 24, Brian Zehr 20, Marcus Blake 3, Holden Roberts 2, Connor Willgress 2, Dylan Mitchell 4, Frank Rossi 0, Blake Ozuna 0, Riley Waite 2, Isaiah Patrick 0. Arlington–Kaleb Bryson 3, Donavan Sellgren 1, Gavin Smoke 13, Shawn Adams 2, Nathan Aune 6, Noah Jones 13, Connor Bovard 0, Bradey Brummel 9, Nate Lewis 0, Jeremy Bishop 2, Brennon Wiersma 2. 3-point goals–Kingma 2, Zehr 1, Blake 1, Smoke 3, Brummel 1. Records–Jackson 10-0 league, 14-1 overall. Arlington 9-1, 14-2.