TACOMA — Jackson didn’t get its storybook ending, but the Timberwolves still had a magical run at the state boys basketball tournament.
The Wolfpack exceeded expectations by advancing to the finals before falling just short of a state title, as Kentwood defeated Jackson 67-58 in the Class 4A championship game March 6 at the Tacoma Dome.
The Timberwolves’ postseason prospects appeared somewhat shaky a month ago as the team lost back-to-back regular season games to Meadowdale and Mountlake Terrace. Jackson then dropped a Northwest District 1 semifinal game to Lake Stevens and had to win two loser-out games to advance to state.
But at last week’s state tournament, the Timberwolves strung together three impressive victories over Skyline, Decatur and defending state champion Federal Way en route to the school’s first-ever appearance in the championship game.
“We put together an improbable run,” said senior guard Ryan Todd. “It’s a great feeling knowing that we came together and did this. I’m so proud of my teammates.”
One of those teammates, junior guard Brett Kingma, made a dazzling tournament debut, averaging 21 points a game and earning first-team, all-tournament honors. If it wasn’t already known before last week, Kingma emerged as an incredibly clutch performer.
Kingma scored the game-winning basket with less than 30 seconds left in the fourth quarter in Jackson’s first-round 45-43 victory over Skyline. He then hit a 3-pointer between three defenders while being fouled and sank the subsequent free throw with 1.8 seconds to go to lift his team to a 58-54 quarterfinal win over Decatur.
The junior standout followed up with a game-high 25 points to lead the Wolfpack to a stunning 53-45 upset over Federal Way, the No. 1 ranked team in the tournament. Finally, Kingma again led Jackson in scoring with 16 points in the title contest.
Not a bad week’s worth of work.
“It’s probably been the most amazing experience of my life,” Kingma said. “We’re disappointed now, but we’ll look back in the future and know it was a pretty cool accomplishment.”
Jackson (20-3) was the first boys basketball team from Snohomish County to advance to the finals since Mountlake Terrace won the title in 1977. Kentwood (15-9) also won a state championship in 2004.
“I’m not so sure anyone thought we would be here (in the finals) with the bracket and playing Federal Way,” said Wolfpack coach Steve Johnson. “I’m obviously real proud. I’m disappointed because I thought we could win that game. I think we can beat that team, but tonight it just didn’t happen.”
Kentwood senior center Josh Smith made sure of that with a dominating performance. The Timberwolves did all they could to slow down the UCLA-bound recruit but at 6-feet-9, 280 pounds, Smith towered over whoever Jackson sent up against him. Smith, the tournament MVP, scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed a game-high 16 rebounds.
“He’s the most massive human being I’ve ever been around in my life,” said Jackson senior guard Marshall Massengale. “He’s impossible to move. You have to triple team him. We had some success, but he just clogged up the middle offensively. He was a complete game-changer.”
In addition to sending extra defenders at Smith, the Timberwolves hoped their athleticism might be an edge.
“We wanted to get on the break and run and see if we could get Josh tired,” Todd said. “I thought we did a good job of that. Give them credit. He stuck with us. Everyone is a little fatigued at this point. You kind of got to put it in the back of your mind and play through it a little bit.”
Smith didn’t hesitate to look for his teammates throughout the game. He finished with a team-high five assists. Smith’s supporting cast took advantage of their opportunities. Alec Wilson scored 12 points and Skyler Genger added nine points.
“Once he gets the ball down low, there’s only so much we could do,” Todd said. “I thought their players, other than him, stepped up and hit some big shots around him when he didn’t have the ball.”
The Timberwolves had to leave players open when they double-teamed Smith, Johnson said.
“We aren’t going to guard him one-on-one,” he said. “They made a few too many outside shots. You have to live with that when you’ve got such a huge guy who is so good.”
Massengale scored 12 points and teammate Mike Wishko added 11 points for Jackson. Todd had eight points.
The Wolfpack took a 14-12 lead after the first quarter, but Kentwood stormed back in the second quarter with a 25-point outburst to take a 37-29 lead into halftime. Jackson cut the lead to 48-42 in the third quarter before the Conquerors responded with a 9-3 run to take a 57-45 lead into the final period.
The Timberwolves cut the deficit to eight points with 1:30 left in the game but could not draw any closer.
”We had got some solid looks (at the basket),” Massengale said. “We were able to penetrate well. I don’t think offense was our problem. … Overall defensively was where we struggled, trying to contain Josh Smith and stop him from passing out of double teams.”
Kentwood shot 49 percent from the field, while Jackson made 48 percent of its shots.
With 21.3 seconds left, a timeout was called and Johnson pulled his starters. As the players gathered on the sidelines, emotions were running high, especially for the six players wrapping up their high school careers.
“I told (the team) that these are six seniors who’ve been together a long time,” Johnson said. “I told them I was very proud of them. I told them I loved them. … They accomplished a lot. As time heals the disappointment of it, I think they’ll realize that.”
Emotions started to surface for Todd during the timeout.
“That was when I realized that I played my last minute of high school basketball,” he said. “It was really when it finally kind of set in.”