The Falcons prove themselves the best defensive team in the state in 6A, 5A and 4A high school basketball

by: JAIME VALDEZ - La Salle Prep senior Ian Johnson (5), Gladstone junior Trevor Browning (left) and Gladiator senior Michael Stoutt scrap for a loose ball in last weeks game between the two rivals. The Gladiators gave the Falcons a game, but La Salle prevailed 42-36.Rankings mean little when La Salle and Gladstone high school sports teams go head-to-head.

Ranked third in the state, the La Salle Falcons were reminded of that on Jan. 10, when they had their hands full in downing 13th-ranked Gladstone in a hotly contested boys basketball game at Gladstone.

La Salle won the game 42-36, but the contest was close all the way. And the Gladiators might have pulled off the upset had they shot a little better at crunch time.

La Salle took the lead for good, at 17-16, near the midpoint of the second period, when Keeston Smith was fouled on an attempt at an inside bucket and made two free throws. At one point the Falcons led by as many as 11 points, at 32-21, early in the third period.

But there was no quit in the Gladiators and they gradually narrowed the gap.

Gladstone junior forward Ryun Gibson took the ball to the basket for a 3-point play in the opening seconds of the fourth quarter to cut La Salle’s lead to 36-31.

La Salle coach Jared Curtiss was concerned enough at that point that he then instructed his players to hold the ball to make the Gladiators switch from their zone to a man defense.

Gladstone coach Ted Yates held firm, instructing his players not to come out. And play remained at a standstill for nearly six minutes until the Gladiators came out of their zone with just 2:16 to play.

Jacob McGraw took the ball to the basket for La Salle’s first fourth-quarter attempt at the basket with 1:44 to play and he made the lay-in to up the Falcons’ lead to 38-31.

The Gladiators had plenty of opportunities down the stretch, as the Falcons were only 4-of-9 from the free-throw line in the final 1:04. But the Gladiators struggled to find the basket at the other end, and the Falcons held on for the 42-36 win.

Smith hauled down a huge rebound for the Falcons when a teammate missed the front end of a one-and-one with 46 seconds remaining. And Valentin Gashongore, Ian Johnson and McGraw made single free throws down the stretch.

Gladstone coach Ted Yates explained his strategy in not coming out of the zone earlier: “I wanted to shorten the game. I figured I’d rather have it a 5-point game with two or three minutes remaining than a 5-point game with eight minutes left. I hadn’t played a lot of guys and I figured it would give our guys a chance to catch their breath, and maybe we’d get a break or two down the stretch and pull it out.”

Yates added, “I didn’t think they’d hold the ball as long as they did.”

“I was a little surprised when they stayed in their zone and we had a five-point lead,” said La Salle senior post Sean Hays. “But it was a good game. Both teams played hard on defense, and they gave us a game. We’ll see them at our place next time, and I expect another good game.”

“I think we won the this game with rebounding and hustle plays,” Curtiss said. “While we didn’t play very well, we played really hard.

“Gladstone did a great job of slowing the tempo way down with their sagging zone and style of offense....

“It felt like a playoff game. While we missed a few gimmes, overall we did enough to win. I think our guys realize that Gladstone is well coached and very capable of beating anyone. They are a dangerous team.”

“We did what we wanted to do to slow them down,” Yates said. “We played good enough to win. The kids played hard and, for the most part, we limited them to one shot. But we weren’t consistent enough. We shot the ball too early at times and we had too many unforced turnovers.”

Hays (12 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists), McGraw (12 points) and Johnson (9 points) paced the Falcons in scoring. Hays was 6-of-11 from the field; McGraw connected with 5-for-9 success; Johnson was a perfect 3-for-3, with two 3-pointers.

Michael Stoutt (15 points) and Gibson (12 points) headed the offense for Gladstone. Gibson also hauled down a team-leading seven rebounds; Kobe Williams came up with four steals.

The Falcons connected at a .516 clip from the field, dropping in 16-of-31 attempts. The Gladiators connected on 15-of-36 (.416) shots from the floor. They were only 2-of-11 in the second period, when the Falcons moved on top for good.

Each team had 12 turnovers.

La Salle (15-1, 2-0) and Gladstone (7-5, 1-1) both won handily in Tri-Valley Conference games played last Friday. The Falcons hammered North Marion 62-33, while the Gladiators upended Estacada 67-28. Friday’s win was the 11th in a row for La Salle.

McGraw starred for the Falcons in the game with North Marion, scoring 23 points on 9-for-15 shooting, with two 3-point baskets.

Johnson was tough on defense, stealing the ball six times. Keeston Smith rejected three shots.

Best defense

in the state

Curtiss noted: “In our current 11-game win streak, we’ve held teams to 34.5 points per game, which included wins over three top-10 teams — Henley, Astoria and Central. Our season points against average is 38.9, which is the lowest points against average in the state for teams in 6A, 5A and 4A.

“The guys have bought into locking down on defense and taking away our opponents’ first options on offense.”

Handsome Smith (14 points, 4 assists), Stoutt (14 points, three 3-pointers) and Gibson (14 points, 8 steals) headed the effort for Gladstone in Friday’s game with Estacada, as 10 different Gladstone players found the basket.

“They had 31 turnovers and we scored 34 points off those turnovers,” Yates said.

La Salle plays Estacada (4-8, 0-2) on the road this Friday, while Gladstone entertains Madras (11-5, 2-0).

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