MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — Mountlake Terrace always takes pride in how it plays defense.
Even when the offense sputters on occasion, the Hawks know their tough defense can be the difference in a close game.
On a night when its offense produced 12 points fewer than its season average, the Mountlake Terrace defense clamped down on one of the most explosive shooters in the league and defeated defending league champion Meadowdale 51-34 in a Western Conference South Division boys basketball clash Dec. 17 at Mountlake Terrace High School.
The 34 points was a season-low for the Mavericks, whose previous low-scoring output was 50.
The Hawks’ focus coming into Friday night’s game was to find a way to slow down Meadowdale’s Jake Linton, who came into the game averaging 18.5 points per game. Linton ended up with 19 points, but the majority of them came in the first half when the Mavericks sharpshooter scored 11 points, including three 3-pointers in the first quarter.
In large part due to Linton, Meadowdale took a 13-10 lead into the second quarter and trailed only 22-19 at halftime.
“We started off the first half a little lackadaisical,” Mountlake Terrace senior forward Mike Boxley said. “But we started getting into it and recognizing what we needed to do (in the second half.)”
Mountlake Terrace got serious in the third quarter when the Hawks limited Meadowdale to only one field goal in the third quarter. Mountlake Terrace held the Mavericks without a basket for 11 minutes during the second and third quarters.
“To hold someone scoreless for 11 minutes — I don’t care who you’re playing — that’s very good defensive basketball,” Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood said.
Sood instructed his players to fight through the screens Linton’s teammates set for him.
“The rule was if you get screened you’re going to follow him (Linton),” Sood said. “You just want to make things tough and I think we did.”
Sood was just as pleased with the Hawks’ defense against Linton’s supporting cast.
Linton’s teammates had their difficulties against Mountlake Terrace, mustering only 15 points.
Despite its strong defensive effort, Mountlake Terrace only took a 31-23 lead into the fourth quarter, which pleased Meadowdale coach Chad McGuire.
“I’m so proud of the way our guys battled even though we went scoreless for so long,” McGuire said. “We’re still down only six, eight points … It showed a lot of character with our guys being able to battle even though we can’t score. I thought we played some pretty darn good defense too.”
But an 8-2 run to start the fourth quarter extended the Hawks’ lead to a more comfortable 14 points.
Mountlake Terrace went to a more aggressive pressure defense in the second half to try and get the game moving.
“We wanted to pick up the pace,” Sood said. “Our press maybe got the game going at our pace.”
Sood was a little disappointed that his team’s defensive effort in the third quarter didn’t translate into a more substantial lead than eight points.
“We held them scoreless and we didn’t capitalize,” he said.
Mountlake Terrace senior forward Mike Boxley scored a team-high 17 points, 13 of which were in the second half. Senior center Leigh Swanson added 13 points.
Boxley acknowledged that the Hawks’ offense isn’t quite clicking fully.
“That’s going to come around,” Boxley said. “You’re going to have offense. Even the best shooters have off-days. That’s something I’m not going to complain about right now. As long as we can play defense, that’s all that really matters.”
Different players took turns guarding Linton.
“If (Linton) is open, he’s going to hit,” Boxley said. “You’ve just got to play good defense. Tenacious defense.” Mountlake Terrace’s defense was responsible for Meadowdale’s offensive woes, according to McGuire. No other Meadowdale players besides Linton scored in double figures.
“You’ve got to give them all the credit,” McGuire said of the Hawks. “They’re just tough, physical defensive players who are in great position … They’re physical players. They forced us out of where we normally play offense.”
Meadowdale generally prefers to run its offense around the 3-point line but found itself about 35 feet out instead, which seems to create some confusion.
The Mavericks, however, aren’t the first team to struggle against the Hawks.
“Terrace’s defense is so good they make a lot of teams look bad,” McGuire said. “They make every shot tough. They contest every shot and they limit you to one shot, so it’s hard to score against them.”
McGuire did appreciate his players’ aggressiveness in attacking the hoop, though he would have liked to have gone to the foul line more frequently.
“We just didn’t hit some shots,” McGuire said. “They forced us into shots that we normally don’t take.”