Tigran Mkrtychan finishes a fast break during Mountlake Terrace’s 51-46 win over Arlington in the Class 3A District 1 Tournament semifinals Wednesday night. The Hawks clinched a state berth with the victory. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Tigran Mkrtychan finishes a fast break during Mountlake Terrace’s 51-46 win over Arlington in the Class 3A District 1 Tournament semifinals Wednesday night. The Hawks clinched a state berth with the victory. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Terrace boys fight back, beat Arlington to clinch state berth

Jeffrey Anyimah and the Hawks overcome an early hole and stymie Arlington 51-46 in the 3A district semis.

EVERETT — It was a rough start for the Mountlake Terrace High School boys basketball team.

But with a star performance by Jeffrey Anyimah and a heavy dose of their usual lockdown defense, the Hawks climbed out of an early hole and took down the Wesco 3A/2A champs.

And in the process, they clinched another state berth for their accomplished program.

Anyimah scored 24 points and fourth-seeded Mountlake Terrace rallied for a 51-46 win over top-seeded Arlington in a Class 3A District 1 Tournament semifinal Wednesday night at Everett Community College.

“We knew it was gonna be a process,” Anyimah said. “We knew there was gonna be ups and downs in that game. … But (we) just knew to stay with it. If you keep working hard and keep a positive attitude, things will turn out for you. And that’s what happened.”

After going scoreless for the game’s first four minutes and falling into an early 11-point hole, the Hawks (16-2) battled back. They narrowed the gap in the second quarter, took the lead in the third and then pulled away in the fourth to beat the regular-season champions of the 16-team Wesco 3A/2A.

For Mountlake Terrace, it avenged a 70-55 loss to the Eagles (16-5) back on Dec. 10. Since then, the Hawks have won 14 of their past 15 games.

“We learned a lot from the first time we played them,” Anyimah said. “We’re a new team this year (with) new guys, and we were still figuring ourselves out back then. But I think throughout the season we’ve learned (and) we came together. We watched film on that game, we learned from our mistakes and we came into this game with an emphasis on defense.”

Jeffrey Anyimah showcased his well-rounded arsenal while scoring a team-high 24 points for the Hawks. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jeffrey Anyimah showcased his well-rounded arsenal while scoring a team-high 24 points for the Hawks. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Strong defense has long been a staple at Mountlake Terrace under coach Nalin Sood. And it was a major reason why the Hawks emerged victorious Wednesday to secure their 10th state berth in the past 13 full-length seasons.

Arlington’s high-powered attack entered the night averaging more than 70 points per game. But Mountlake Terrace limited the Eagles to their second-lowest point total of the season, holding them 24.1 points below their average.

“Defense is a thing in this program,” Sood said. “But it ends from one year to the next, because you get new guys. And then it’s the new guys that’ve gotta go figure it out. … We don’t have these magic words or magic dust. It’s a real credit to the kids.”

Arlington sharpshooter Ethan Martin, one of the area’s most prolific scorers, was on fire early. The standout senior scored the Eagles’ first 10 points, hitting several tough shots in the opening minutes.

But after Martin netted 11 points in the first quarter, the Hawks limited him to nine points the rest of the way.

“Once we got some things figured out, we dug in and were able to make them work hard for what they would get,” Sood said. “And that’s all you can do. … They’re gonna get some stuff. They’ve got too good of players.

“But if you can make them work and some of their guys are gonna get some tough shots, (you) just continue to just trust that the percentages will be in our favor when it’s all said and done.”

Ethan Martin scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the first quarter for the Eagles. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Ethan Martin scored 11 of his team-high 20 points in the first quarter for the Eagles. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Mountlake Terrace also turned its defense into offense, forcing a number of turnovers that led to transition baskets.

“It’s two-fold,” Sood said. “You get the turnover and then you get the high-percentage shot. And so the guys were pretty good with that.”

And when the Hawks needed a bucket, Anyimah came through time and time again.

The standout 5-foot-11 senior guard smoothly sank mid-range jump shots. He used his speed and athleticism to weave his way through the defense. And he showed his physicality while finishing strong at the rim.

“Just the ultimate competitor,” Sood said. “I made sure at the beginning of this year (that) I appreciated coaching Jeffrey. Because when it’s over, I didn’t want to say I should’ve appreciated it more.

“What he’s been as a leader, what he does in practice, his maturity, and then his basketball game — he’s just a well-rounded student-athlete.”

Anyimah’s multifaceted arsenal was on full display in the fourth quarter. He scored 12 points in the final seven minutes — including four baskets in a three-minute span — to help Mountlake Terrace pull away.

The biggest sequence was a pair of back-to-back baskets that helped serve as the knockout punch.

With his team nursing a two-point lead midway through the fourth quarter, Anyimah manuevered his way past two defenders while driving the baseline. He beat the first with a nice crossover, got past the second with a well-executed inside-out dribble and then finished at the hoop.

Don Brown sinks a basket in the paint for the Hawks. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Don Brown sinks a basket in the paint for the Hawks. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Then after the Hawks got the ball back just moments later, Anyimah dribbled upcourt and swished a pullup jumper to stretch the lead to 45-39 with 3:35 to play.

About a minute later, Mountlake Terrace junior Chris Meegan raced upcourt on a fastbreak and delivered a pass to senior Addison Mattix, who finished with an alley-oop layup to help put the game out of reach.

Sophomore forward Zaveon Jones added nine points for the Hawks, who overcame their third-lowest point total of the season.

“It was not the prettiest basketball game,” Sood said. “But at this point of the season, it’s two really good teams battling it out. … So just a credit to the kids.”

Arlington gets another chance to clinch a state berth Saturday, when it faces ninth-seeded Cascade in a winner-to-state, loser-out game.

Mountlake Terrace advances the district championship game, where it faces seventh-seeded Ferndale. After that, the Hawks turn their attention to the 3A state tournament — which begins with play-in games for some teams next Tuesday, followed by the state regionals next Friday and Saturday.

“(In) postseason basketball, one of the keys is you’ve gotta play good halfcourt defense,” Sood said. “If we can play good halfcourt defense and rebound, and then we can get out and push the basketball, then I think that makes us a fairly decent basketball team.”

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