Defense lifts Terrace past Jackson

  • Charlie Laughtland<br>Enterprise writer
  • Thursday, February 28, 2008 10:40am

MILL CREEK — Sure, the Mountlake Terrace boys basketball team can get out and run with the best of them. But that’s not exactly what has the Hawks flying high these days.

A dynamic defense that allowed just 48.8 points a game during the regular season — third lowest in the 19-team Western Conference — ensured Terrace’s spot in the postseason.

But in their first three Northwest District 4A playoff games, the Hawks seemed to stray from what got them there in the first place, giving up their three highest point totals of the season.

So against Jackson in a winner-to-state/loser-out high-stakes matchup March 8 at Jackson High School, it was back to basics for Terrace.

After yielding 30 points in a fiery first half, the Hawks clamped down on Jackson’s 3-point specialists — most notably, senior sharpshooter Chris Keller — and rode their defensive resurgence to a 59-47 victory and a berth to this week’s Class 4A state championships.

“We went back to what this program’s based on — defense,” Mountlake Terrace coach Nalin Sood said.

Keller singed the Hawks for three 3-pointers and 17 first-half points, including Jackson’s first eight points of the second period.

Mountlake Terrace seniors Sean Gearin and Ronald Steil-Williams took turns hounding Keller in the second half, fighting their way through a maze of double-screens to limit the lanky, 6-foot-5 swingman to two field goals and a pair of free throws.

“Sean and Ronald stepped up and said, ‘We’re not going to give (Keller) anything. If we lose the game, it’s not going to be because my man scores,’” Sood said.

“My coach challenged me and got in my face a little at halftime. I like that challenge,” Gearin grinned. “I said, ‘If I don’t score in the second half, that’s no big deal. If all I do is play defense, that’s fine with me.’ I’ll do whatever it takes to get to state.”

Gearin’s teammates adopted the same sentiment, diving to the floor to corral loose balls and stepping in front of errant Jackson passes to keep the pressure on the Timberwolves.

When Corey Hall hit consecutive layins to shrink Jackson’s deficit to 37-36 at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter, Terrace responded with three buckets in less than a minute and a half.

Sophomore Mike Boxley capped the spurt by hitting the deck for a steal, then slapping the ball down court to Gearin for an uncontested layup. Boxley finished with 12 points and Gearin added 10.

“Coach Sood always says, ‘You guys are more mentally and physically fit that any team out here. If you want to go to battle, we can win the war,’” Boxley said. “One of the main keys he put on the board was hustle plays.”

Jackson held the Hawks scoreless for the first five minutes of the fourth quarter to cut Terrace’s lead to 45-43 with six minutes remaining. But the Timberwolves missed a pair of free throws and committed a rash of turnovers, leaving them stuck on 43 for the next 4:30.

“We had a couple missed free throws, turnovers and a few point-blank misses,” Jackson coach Steve Johnson said. “The tone of the game and the color of the game would have changed dramatically had we converted some of those to get the score tied and maybe take a lead.”

Boxley ended Mountlake Terrace’s drought with a pullup jumper with three minutes to go and the Hawks sealed the win by hitting 12 of their 17 free throw attempts in the final 2:31. Senior post Ryan Strieby was 9-for-10 from the line for the game and finished with a team-high 17 points for Terrace.

The Hawks never trailed after Strieby and Gearin combined for three straight 3-pointers in a first quarter that quickly turned into a shootout. Strieby canned his first trey to even the score at 11-all, Gearin followed with his only three of the game and Terrace rotated the ball back to Strieby for another bomb from the corner.

Jackson’s first nine points all came from 3-pointers, but in the second half the Timberwolves cooled off, going 0-for-11 from behind the arc.

Terrace (16-8 overall) is making its first state appearance since 2000, when the Hawks won their opener before dropping their next two in Roger Ottmar’s final year as head coach.

“I remember going down there as an assistant coach and (saying), ‘I’m going to enjoy this as much as I can because I never know when I’ll get another opportunity,’” Sood recalled. “Like 2000, I’m going to savor this as long as we can.”


BUBBLICIOUS: The game was paused briefly for a most unusual reason at the 4:33 mark of the third quarter. An official approached the scorer’s table and moments later the announcer asked the crowd to “please stop blowing bubbles.”

YOU GO, BRO: Mike Boxley will be the third Boxley brother to play at state. When Mountlake Terrace last qualified three years ago, his older brothers Seamus and Dan were playing for the Hawks.

“It feels good to follow in their legacy,” Boxley said. “Following in their shoes is pretty hard but it always feels good to go to the Tacoma Dome.”

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