TACOMA — In a season that started with 24 victories in 24 games, the Jackson boys basketball team rarely had to deal with big deficits.
But it happened on Thursday afternoon in the team’s quarterfinal game at the state Class 4A tournament. After getting a rebound basket from Brian Zehr for an early 2-0 lead, the Timberwolves missed their next three shots and also suffered three turnovers, allowing Central Valley to break out to a 10-2 margin in the Tacoma Dome.
Concern, yes. Panic, hardly.
Jackson pecked away at Central Valley’s lead through the rest of the first half, went on top 26-25 by halftime, gained the lead for good late in the third quarter and pulled out a hard-fought 55-47 victory.
“I was pleased with the kids,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said. “It would’ve been easy for them to say, ‘Geez, we’re undefeated, we’re at the state tournament, and now we’re down eight. That’s embarrassing.’
“But there was none of that. I didn’t feel like anyone panicked … and we overcame kind of a rough start.”
“Being down early is something we’re not used to, no doubt,” added T-wolves junior forward Jason Todd, who finished with 19 points, eight rebounds and four assists, all team bests. “But no matter what the score is, we’re going to battle until the final seconds go off. I knew we’d come back and give them a game, and we were fortunate enough to get out with a win.”
If there was a turning point to the game, it came in the third quarter when Johnson switched his team from a man-to-man to zone defense. To that point, eight of Central Valley’s 11 field goals had been layins, rebound put-backs and other shots right around the rim.
“I’m a man-to-man guy,” Johnson said, “but you have to have something else you can go to.” A zone is “our secondary defense,” he went on, “and we realized they were penetrating a lot and they weren’t making a lot of outside shots, so we thought we should maybe show them something different.”
That defensive switch came in a seven-minute span when the Bears did not convert a field goal. It also coincided with a 12-2 Jackson scoring burst that produced a 39-33 lead early in the fourth quarter, and the T-wolves protected their margin in the game’s remaining minutes with a patient offense and a flurry of free throws.
With Central Valley playing a pressuring, physical defense, Jackson put the game out of reach with 10 straight free throws in the game’s final 3½ minutes.
The game’s top individual highlight was a spinning, off-balance and basically desperation 3-pointer from the right wing by Jackson guard Dan Kingma at the third-period horn. The shot, which swished cleanly, was hugely important, giving the T-wolves a big emotional lift and a 37-33 lead going to the fourth quarter.
“It got the crowd going, that’s for sure,” Todd said. “And it got us going, too.”
The T-Wolves got a scare late in the first quarter when Todd went down hard under the basket after a layin attempt. The shot rolled off the rim, no foul was called and Todd stayed on the court as the action went the other way because an opposing player had landed on his head. But he was soon on his feet and unhurt.
“I’m a little woozy right now,” he admitted, “but I’ll be OK.”
The victory sets up an all-Western Conference semifinal with Jackson meeting Arlington for the third time this season. The T-wolves won the first two games, both by double digits, heading into Friday’s 5:30 p.m. game.
“We’re looking forward to (playing Arlington again),” Todd said. “I’ve never had to beat another team three times (in one season), but they’re playing lights out right now.
“They’re not the same team they were (earlier in the season), and neither are we,” he said. “So that’s what makes this exciting. We’ll trade punches and see who comes out (on top) at the end.”
At Tacoma Dome
Jackson 6 20 11 18 — 55
Central Valley 13 12 8 14 — 47
Jackson — Kyle Graff 0, Dan Kingma 12, Jason Todd 19, Brian Zehr 12, Markus Blake 3, Connor Willgress 6, Riley Waite 3. Central Valley — Trey Carolan 0, Adam Chamberlain 13, A.J. Knudsen 3, Austin Rehkow 13, Ryan Deckard 2, Austin Daines 6, Beau Byus 10, Justin Fayant 0. 3-point goals — Dan Kingma 2, Jason Todd 2, Markus Blake 1, Austin Rehkow 1. Records — Jackson is 25-0. Central Valley is 22-3.