By Kevin Brown Herald Writer
MILL CREEK — By virtue of their Northwest District championship, the Jackson Timberwolves got to open play in the Class 4A state boys basketball tournament on their home court.
That was unfortunate for the Auburn Trojans.
Clearly feeling comfortable in familiar surroundings, the third-ranked Timberwolves powered their way to an 18-0 lead in the opening minutes Saturday night and that proved to be a deficit the Trojans couldn’t quite overcome as Jackson held on for a 58-53 victory.
Jackson, the only undefeated Class 4A boys team in the state, improved to 24-0 and advanced to the state quarterfinals, which open Thursday in the Tacoma Dome. Auburn (16-10) saw its season end.
Jackson essentially won the game in the first seven minutes. The Timberwolves scored on eight of their first 12 possessions to build their 18-0 advantage. Jackson controlled the boards, getting multiple shots on the offensive end and holding the Trojans to just one shot on the defensive side.
Auburn didn’t score until Rio Paul came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
Jackson junior guard-forward Jason Todd, who led all scorers with 21 points, attributed the fast start to the Timberwolves playing in front of the home crowd.
“We had a lot of energy on our home court,” he said. “It was a possible last game of the season and I know the guys were ready.”
Auburn coach Ryan Hansen said he was proud of the way his players battled back after a nightmarish start.
“(Down 18-0) there’s some teams that probably would have folded their tents right there,” Hansen said. “Our guys showed a lot of resiliency and toughness. … With a minute to go we had a three-point game. I was really proud of our kids.”
Auburn’s comeback didn’t surprise Jackson coach Steve Johnson.
“They are really tough kids and are really well-coached,” he said. “I knew they weren’t just going to fold and go away.”
Paul’s insertion into the lineup in the first quarter seemed to give the Trojans a lift. He scored his team’s first seven points as Auburn began chipping away at Jackson’s lead. By halftime the Trojans had cut the difference to 26-19.
They would eventually get as close as three points three times in the final 21/2 minutes — the last on two free throws by JJ Ruffin with 12.4 remaining — but could get no closer.
“We didn’t play that great,” Johnson said. “Some of our better shooters shot the ball very poorly tonight. We had to gut it out with offensive rebounds, gut it out at the free-throw line. Sometimes you got to win games when you don’t play that great.”
Jackson shot just 36 percent from the floor (17-for-47) but out-rebounded Auburn 40-25 (including 12 offensive boards) and was 21-for-24 from the foul line (88 percent).
Todd led the Timberwolves with 21 points and 18 rebounds and was 12-for-12 from the foul line. He nearly had a double-double by halftime (nine points, 13 rebounds).
“He’s a warrior …” Johnson said. “You could see it in his eyes. He was like ‘I’m going to Tacoma again.’ You just had that feeling that he was going to take it upon himself if he had to, and he made a ton of plays.”
It was Todd who effectively sealed the win, hitting the last of his 12 free throws with 9.8 seconds remaining to give Jackson its final five-point lead.
“I’m confident in myself, I’ve put in the hours, I know when it comes down to it I can hit a free throw,” Todd said. “I relish that opportunity and I want the ball.”
Connor Willgress scored 15 points for Jackson and Brian Zehr added 11 points and 10 rebounds. Guard Harold Lee paced Auburn with 14 points.
Jackson now heads to Tacoma for the fourth time in the past four years. Any team that hopes to beat the Timberwolves is going to have to slow down Todd, Hansen said.
“Jason Todd is a very good basketball player,” he said. “In fact, he’s probably as good as we’ve faced all year. I think teams that can get out and stop him, it’s going to be a dogfight for them.”
At Jackson H.S.
Auburn 3 16 10 24 — 53
Jackson 18 8 11 21 — 58
Auburn—Marguise Prater 2, Harold Lee 14, LaQuell Simmons 13, JJ Ruffin 2, Rio Paul 9, spencer Fisher 13, Josh Callero, Avery Wade, Jason Momi. Jackson—Kyle Graff 2, Dan Kingma 6, Jason Todd 21, Brian Zehr 11, Marcus Blake 3, Connor Willgress 15, Holden Roberts, Riley Waite. 3-point goals—Lee 2, Simmons 2, Paul 1, Fisher 1, Todd 1, Blake 1, Willgress 1. Records—Auburn 16-10 overall. Jackson 24-0.