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Saints go inside to weather Storm

Mac Johnson scores 21 points, as Mt. Hood CC boosts its playoff chances with a win over South Region leader Chemeketa


by: THE POST: DAVID BALL - Mt. Hood point guard Jalen Thomas brings the ball upcourt against Chemeketas Andrew Saba. Thomas hit a 3-pointer to give the Saints a 17-point lead with 10 minutes to play.

The Mt. Hood CC men’s basketball team pounded the ball inside over and over again Wednesday night for an 87-67 win over visiting Chemeketa — marking the Storm’s first loss in league play.

“This was a big win,” Saints coach Geoff Gibor said. “They are a good team, and it’s a win that a lot of teams aren’t going to get.”

After trading the lead a dozen times in the early stages, Mt. Hood pulled away with a 26-9 run to end the first half.

Denzel Green beat the shot clock with a 3 to put the Saints in front, and teammate Thomas Simien blocked a shot at one end and raced down court for a layup at the other basket.

The Saints continued to focus on moving the ball in close, highlighted when Cody Mitchell lobbed a perfect pass over the top of two defenders. The ball fell into the fingertips of center Mac Johnson, who made a quick turn to the hoop for an easy two.

The Storm looked like a student surprised by a pop quiz, never having an answer for Mt. Hood’s inside play. The Saints used similar passes to feed Johnson all night.

The margin quickly expanded to double digits when Jalen Thomas swished a pair of free throws after Chemeketa coach David Abderhalden was hit with a technical foul.

A mix of crashing the boards and forcing turnovers allowed the Saints to attempt 40 shots in the first half — 14 more than the Storm. Of that total more than two-thirds of the team’s attempts came from in the paint — often within five feet of the basket.

“We knew we had a size advantage on them, so we just stuck with our regular offense and it worked,” Johnson said.

He finished with a double-double, scoring 21 points and grabbing 12 rebounds.

Mt. Hood carried a 49-33 lead into the locker room and maintained a comfortable margin the rest of the way.

The Saints’ Brandon Kohler drove into the lane and attracted a crowd of green shirts only to see teammate Thomas wave a hand from the corner. Kohler found him with a laser pass, and Thomas swished the open 3 to put Mt. Hood up by 17 points as the clock ticked under 10 minutes.

“When you build a big lead like that you can play two ways,” Gibor said. “You can play scared and try to protect it, or you can keep on the attack. Our guys stayed aggressive and played to our advantage.”

The Saints took their time and moved the ball to all corners of the court most of the night — even more so in the game’s final 10 minutes.

Barlow High grad Brock Otis highlighted that effort when he received a pass in the side court with less than :05 on the shot clock. With a defender in his face, Otis left his feet and buried a 15-foot fade away to put Mt. Hood up 71-59 with less than five minutes to play.

“We were getting down in the shot clock, and it was just the right shot and the right time,” Otis said. “A big part of the game tonight was being patient and slowing their tempo.”

Desperate to make some headway, the Storm started fouling early and often, usually hacking the Saints before they could get the ball out of the backcourt.

Mt. Hood responded by hitting 15 of 21 (.714) down the stretch — a few late misses bringing that percentage down after the game was already out of hand.

“We have a young team, but they kept their composure and spread the ball around,” Gibor said. “They started fouling us early, and we hit our free throws.”

The Saints were even more on target in the first half going 10-for-11 (.909) at the stripe, while building their large lead.

Landon Rushton, Blake Updike and Thomas also reached double figures in scoring for the Saints.

Mt. Hood (7-10) hits the halfway point of the league season Saturday when they travel to Linn-Benton (5-9) for a 4 p.m. start.

View a photo gallery from the game at daveball.exposuremanager.com.