TACOMA —A shaky first half dug Jackson a hole it couldn’t pull itself out of and the No. 6-seeded Timberwolves’ season ended Wednesday morning in a 56-50 loss to No. 11-seeded Puyallup in the opening round of the 4A boys Hardwood Classic at the Tacoma Dome.
“I think it took us awhile to get aggressive and get after it,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said. “In the second half, we were much more aggressive.”
Jackson, the Wesco 4A regular-season champion, trailed 33-17 at halftime after a cold-shooting first half — the Timberwolves (18-6) shot just 31.8 percent from the field in the opening 16 minutes.
Senior Christian Liddell provided the Timberwolves a significant lift in the third quarter, pouring in 10 points in the period after a scoreless first half to keep Jackson within striking distance.
“If you have to take one step back and make some threes, we need you to make some shots,” Johnson said he told Liddell. “He got to the lane and did extend his range and to his credit, he hit a few. He made it interesting and got us back in it.”
Puyallup led 49-34 with 3:52 remaining, but struggled at the free-throw line, making just nine of 21 attempts down the stretch to allow the Timberwolves to climb back into the game. Jackson cut the lead to five with 3.1 seconds remaining, but could get no closer.
“When were down at half, our coaches just told us they want us to come out and battle,” Liddell said. “I think we did. (We) came up a little short, but we left everything on the floor.”
Puyallup’s Cobi Campbell lead all scorers with 20 points. Jaeden Ingram chipped in 11 for the Vikings. Kendall Munson and Zane Foster gobbled up 12 rebounds apiece.
Despite a significant height advantage — Foster is 7-foot and Munson is 6-foot-8, while Jackson’s tallest starter, Jaylen Searles, stands 6-foot-6 — the Vikings barely out-rebounded the Timberwolves, 35-31. Nonetheless, there were some key defensive rebounds the Timberwolves missed out on, Johnson said.
“A lot of offensive rebounds we left for the taking in the second half,” Johnson said. “If we could have gotten them, more time on the clock, more possessions for us. We didn’t rebound very well defensively and that’s kind of been a problem lately. … That’s what it comes down to when you play good teams.”
Liddell, a senior, led the Timberwolves with 17 points. Senior Kyle Bigovich added 10.
The Vikings shot 56 percent from the field and 40 percent (4-of-10) from beyond the 3-point arc to assemble their first-half lead.
The Timberwolves’ season ended with three consecutive postseason losses after running the table in Wesco 4A regular-season play. Jackson graduates several seniors, including key contributors Liddell, Ben Olesen, Bigovich and Joe Capponi.
“We’ve been together since like fifth grade most of us,” Liddell said. “It’s a tight-knit group. Most of us are like best friends. We just came together and tried to make a run at the state championship, just fell short.”
Olesen was limited with an injury, according to Johnson, rendering him incapable of penetrating and defending man-to-man.
“He wasn’t really himself,” Johnson said. “But no excuses. (Puyallup) executed. At this point of the season a lot of people are banged up. That’s the way it goes.”
Puyallup advances to play No. 4 Mount Si in the state quarterfinals at 9 a.m. Thursday.