TACOMA — It turns out the team to beat the Jackson Timberwolves was a team that was quite similar to the Jackson Timberwolves.
Jackson found just that Thursday night while losing 56-44 to Issaquah in a 4A state quarterfinal game at the Tacoma Dome. The Eagles, out of the Kingco league, posed a matchup problem for the Timberwolves, rocking Jackson with strong post play and quick guards — two staples of the Timberwolves’ game.
“I commented on that before the state tournament. When we were watching film I see a lot of ourselves in them and I’m sure (Jackson head Coach Steve Johnson) would say the same,” said Jason Griffith, Issaquah’s head coach. “(Like us), they have good guards, they have good inside play, they run their stuff and they execute. We try to play team basketball, they try to play team basketball.”
The big difference between the two teams Thursday was the first quarter. The Eagles closed the period with a 12-0 run — capped by Brian Watson’s 3-pointer at the buzzer — and outscored Jackson 22-12. That 10-point advantage proved crucial, with Issaquah, the No. 10 team in the latest Associated Press poll, only outscoring No. 1 Jackson 34-32 the rest of the way.
“Any tournament basketball, any matchup — any one game — can really go one way or another,” Johnson said. “We kind of lost control of the game, really, in the first quarter and never really had it. … We were always running up hill, running up hill, running up hill. That’s unfortunate. I’m unpleasantly surprised that it went that way.”
Issaquah’s biggest lead was 15 points in the second quarter. Jackson (23-2) cut into the Eagles’ lead in the fourth, getting as close as five after a basket by Timberwolves senior Jason Todd.
But Ty Gibson, who led Issaquah (19-6) with a game-high 18 points, hit a fadeaway jump shot toward the end of a 30-second shot clock and Jackson never got any closer.
“He’s such a competitor, he really is,” Griffith said of Gibson. “You challenge a kid like that, he’s going to rise up. That’s the bottom line.”
Gibson recorded a double-double with 10 rebounds. The junior also was instrumental on defense, keeping Todd, Jackson’s star wing, in check.
“He’s a phenomenal defender. He defends hard. He’s a strong kid,” Griffith said. “He obviously can score. But he can defend; and he’s a kid that’s going to play at the next level, as is Jason, and I’m sure Ty took that as a challenge, to go out and defend Jason to the best of his ability.”
Todd finished with a team-high 17 points — seven of which came from the free throw line — and nine rebounds. The senior kept Jackson close in the final quarter, but the Timberwolves just weren’t able to overcome the hole they dug themselves into early.
“I certainly thought when we were down six we had a shot,” Johnson said. “I certainly felt that was a winnable game. Just a play we would’ve made here, a play we would’ve made there, and we just couldn’t quite get over the hump. When you fall that far behind, your margin for error is pretty thin.”
Dan Kingma, another senior in an experienced Jackson squad, added 14 points and five rebounds.
Jackson’s other struggles came trying to collect rebounds, with the Eagles out-rebounding the Timberwolves 42-29. A big part of Jackson’s offense is scoring quickly in transition, which was limited with Issaquah’s rebound advantage.
“We like to score in transition,” Johnson said. “If you rebound poorly, then that takes that away too. So that was a big factor.”
A team with 10 seniors that many picked as the favorite early in the season, Johnson said the game was hard to stomach for his group.
“We’ll probably think about this game later,” Johnson said. “They’re extremely disappointed. We had high expectations. We feel bad. We feel like we let people down and we’re disappointed. I’m disappointed. Make no mistake about it.”
The double-elimination tournament means the Timberwolves season is not over. Jackson will play Kentridge — which lost to Garfield 63-41 in another quarterfinal game — Friday at 12:15 p.m.
After the loss, Johnson told the Timberwolves that it’s up to them to decide how they want their season to end.
“We just basically said we’ve got to look at it head on and say, ‘Look, the honest truth is, what do we want to do? Do we want to keep playing in this tournament, or do we not? Do we want to suit up one more time and that’s it and go home and call it a great career’ — which it has been a great career, it’s been a great run by this senior group. A historic run. An epic run, when you compare us to other schools.
“But really what it comes down to is what do we want this to be? Do we want to play one more game? Do we want to get a state trophy? And that’s really what it comes down to. We tried to focus on moving to the future and not thinking about the past. That’s all we can do right now, is look to the future and have that goal to play another day.”