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LO boys soar, then fall but win twice

by: Vern Uyetake, 
Lake Oswego’s Max Jacobsen tries to power his way past Newberg’s Taylor Braun during Tuesday’s non-league game. Despite being heavily favored to win, Lake Oswego struggled at times before pulling out a 54-49 victory over the Tigers. Elliot Babcock-Krenk led the Lakers with 22 points.

After beating a good Benson team by 13 points on the road last Friday, a lot of people figured Tuesday's home game against Newberg would be a cakewalk.

As it turned out, the Lake Oswego boys basketball team was fortunate to escape with a 54-49 victory over the pesky Tigers on Tuesday.

On paper, Lake Oswego looked like the more talented team. But that hardly mattered to Newberg, which kept the game close while shooting the ball with uncanny precision from the perimeter.

The Tigers were especially deadly from the three-point line. They had only eight baskets in the first half, but seven them came from three-point line and that was enough to keep Newberg within striking distance as Lake Oswego led 30-25 at halftime.

'You've got to give (Newberg) credit for hitting threes,' Lake Oswego coach Mark Shoff said. 'Even if you're shooting them in practice with no defense, it would be hard….'

Shoff never finished that comment, but it wasn't hard to fill in the blank. Some college teams would have had a hard time duplicating what Newberg's shooters managed to do in that first half.

Playing with an undersized lineup, the Tigers relied mainly on a patient, perimeter passing game that utilized screens to shake their shooters loose for open shots. It's a simple offense that a number of teams use. To beat it, though, an opponent must play aggressive defense, especially when fighting through screens.

On Tuesday, Lake Oswego's defenders spent too much time standing and watching. They almost seemed to be daring the Tigers to shoot the ball.

It's probably not the first time that Newberg has lulled a team into a false sense of security. At first glance, the Newberg scorers don't look very intimidating. The one who probably gets overlooked the most is 5-foot-8 sophomore Brett Vernon, who looks like he just got called up from Newberg's eighth-grade traveling team.

But looks can be deceiving. Vernon proved that when he drilled the first four three-pointers he attempted. At one point, Shoff called time out and informed his team that Vernon wouldn't be allowed to shoot another open jumper for the rest of the game.

To the Lakers' credit, they did a good job of stopping Vernon the rest of the way. But that just created more room for three of Vernon's teammates, and the Lakers had trouble stopping them, too.

'Defensively we were awful. But you can't play a game if you don't show any energy and we didn't have any energy out there,' Shoff said.

The Lakers are certainly capable of playing at a high level. They proved that last Friday when they played exceptionally well for long stretches en route to an impressive 73-60 victory over Benson.

'We were an entirely different looking team on Friday than we were (Tuesday night,)' Shoff said.

Then, before playing Newberg, the Lakers watched their junior varsity team beat Newberg's JVs 77-25 and that followed an 86-21 victory by the LO freshmen. After seeing those two lopsided games, one had to figure that more of the same would be dished up in the varsity game.

'But I told them that it's not about who you're playing. It's about who you are,' Shoff said.

While the Lake Oswego defense got caught sleep-walking at times, the offense played well enough to keep the Lakers in front almost the entire way.

And no one played better on the offensive end than senior wing Elliot Babcock-Krenk, who scored a game-high 22 points. He scored from virtually everywhere, including the three-point line, but he was especially effective on short drives to the hoop.

'Fortunately, Elliot played great tonight. If it wasn't for him, we would have lost that game,' Shoff said.

The Lakers also got 10 points each from Marcus Anthony and Max Jacobsen and Nick Halberg added a pair of three-pointers.

Halberg's second three kicked off a run of nine unanswered points (which also included a drive by Anthony and rebound baskets by Jacobsen and Babcock-Krenk) that gave Lake Oswego its biggest lead of the game at 45-34 late in the third quarter.

But Newberg responded with six straight points and suddenly it was a game again.

Lake Oswego made just two field goals the rest of the way. Both were by Babcock-Krenk and the last one gave the Lakers a 49-45 lead with 3:58 left in the game. Two minutes later, Newberg tied the contest on a difficult, running, off-balance shot by Taylor Braun.

Lake Oswego got the lead back when Babcock-Krenk hit one of two free throws with one minute remaining. That was followed by three consecutive turnovers on inbounds plays (including two by Newberg).

Babcock-Krenk capitalized by hitting two foul shots with 44 seconds left. Then, senior forward Cody Randall iced the game by hitting two more free throws with 13 seconds left. By then, not even a three-pointer (even after making 10 of them during the game) could help Newberg's cause.

'We were very fortunate to win the game,' Shoff said. 'We played scared at times … There were so many holes in their defense that we could attack and we didn't do that.

'And then, defensively, I couldn't believe how many times we were beaten. All they did was spread the floor on us and go one-on-one. That's all it was - mano-a-mano - and we didn't accept the challenge very well.

'You can bet a lot of (Wednesday's) practice will be defense,' the coach added.

The good news for Lakers fans is their team is still undefeated, and there's still plenty of time before the league season starts to correct the problems that surfaced Tuesday night.

Maybe the Lakers just need to watch a tape of last Friday's game against Benson to remind themselves what they're capable of. Babcock-Krenk and Jacobsen both had big games that night. Babcock-Krenk poured in 21 points while Jacobsen took game-high honors with 23.

'Benson is a very talented team but we just had more energy that game,' Shoff said. 'I wasn't sure what to expect going in, because (Benson) had four weeks of practice and we only had three days with the entire team.

'I was real pleased with our energy (against Benson) … and we were night and day different (compared to Tuesday) as far as our movement.'

More than anything, the victory over Benson showed what can be accomplished when a team is mentally prepared to play a strong opponent.

'That was a good win for us,' Shoff said. 'I don't know if it was a peak (effort). But we had a lot of guys who scored and they hit shots at times that we needed them to.'

After that, the Lakers had to be thinking that a game against Newberg would be little more than a walk in the park.

'Well, these are 16 and 17-year-old kids,' Shoff noted. '(They) just beat Benson and they take one look at Newberg, which is under-sized….

'We can beat any team in the state,' Shoff said. 'But I also told them that we can lose to any team in the state.'

Newberg nearly provided proof of the latter on Tuesday.