MARYSVILLE — After a first-half defensive performance that wasn’t up to his program’s high standards, Mountlake Terrace boys basketball coach Nalin Sood challenged his players to put forth a better showing in the second half.
The defense-first Hawks responded to their coach’s halftime challenge with a lockdown defensive effort that helped secure a league championship.
Mountlake Terrace allowed just 19 second-half points and pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 63-52 road win over Marysville Pilchuck on Monday night in a regular-season finale that ultimately decided the Wesco 3A title.
The victory — combined with Shorecrest’s overtime loss to Stanwood — gave the Hawks the outright league crown.
“It means that we put in the work, and it paid off,” said standout senior guard Khyree Armstead, who led Mountlake Terrace with a game-high 24 points.
During halftime, with the Hawks on pace to allow 66 points, Sood challenged his team to hold Marysville Pilchuck to 55 points or less. His players, however, insisted on aiming for 50.
“The guys said 50,” Sood said. “And I said, ‘We’re at 33 right now — I don’t know if we can do 50.’ I said 55 might get it. And they beat me, because we (allowed) 52.
“It was just defense,” he added. “It’s just the kids playing hard and limiting them to one shot.”
Leading 44-43 after three back-and-forth quarters, Mountlake Terrace outscored the Tomahawks 19-9 in the final period.
Sophomore Mason Christianson scored all nine of his points in the fourth quarter, hitting a pair of pivotal 3-pointers to help the Hawks (19-1 overall, 11-1 Wesco 3A) pull away.
“I hadn’t taken a shot the whole game, so I just decided to let it fly,” Christianson said. “And if I have confidence, it’s going to go in.”
Christianson’s first 3-pointer gave Mountlake Terrace a four-point lead with 6:30 to play. Later, the 5-foot-11 guard drilled another back-breaking 3 that stretched the margin to 54-47 with 3:10 remaining.
“That was just clutch,” Armstead said. “That’s what he’s been doing all season. He’s been hitting big shots.”
Armstead and Christianson each added a three-point play down the stretch as the Hawks pulled away to ultimately claim their first outright league title since winning the Wesco 3A South in the 2012-13 season.
Mountlake Terrace, the lone Class 2A school in Wesco 3A, has won 14 consecutive games since a Dec. 12 loss to Shorecrest.
“To go through a 20-game season and have a good year, you’ve got to have some good fortune,” Sood said. “But then the guys also have to be putting in the work so that the basketball gods smile on you a little bit.”
Mountlake Terrace junior forward Mason Petersen hit four 3-pointers and finished with 13 points.
Junior standout RaeQuan Battle led Marysville Pilchuck with 16 points and sophomore guard Luke Dobler added 13.
The Tomahawks (16-4, 10-2) fell into an early 10-2 hole after managing just two points in the game’s first four minutes. But Marysville Pilchuck climbed back, closing the opening quarter with 10 straight points to build a 16-13 lead.
The teams then traded blows throughout the second and third quarters — with the margin never exceeding more than four points during that stretch — before the Hawks gained separation in the fourth.
Monday was the 18th time this season that Mountlake Terrace’s stifling defense yielded less than 60 points.
“We didn’t do (anything) special,” Armstead said. “We just played man-to-man defense like we always do. It’s nothing new.
“We just knew we had to play defense and not let them get their open shots.”