by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior wing Jeff Bieber drops off a pass to an Apollo cutter in the fourth quarter of Sunset's loss to Churchill in the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational on Friday. Bieber had 19 points and 12 rebounds.

By the time the sleepwalking Sunset boys’ basketball team came to in the second half of the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational against Churchill, it was a case of too little, too late.

Shooting just 36 percent from the field and turning the ball over 15 times against the dynamic Lancers, Sunset trailed 21-6 at the end of the first quarter and 40-19 at halftime.

The second half was a much better representation of what Sunset could be, as the Apollos got their offense back on track and outscored Churchill in the final two quarters. The slow start— which could’ve been a result of the abnormal noon tip time — was too much to get over for Sunset who dropped the contest, 79-65.

“We always take the first punch, we have to learn to give it more,” said senior point guard Taylor Harris. “We have to play hard from the beginning and at all times. We have to throw the first punch and make sure we’re always defending and rebounding.”

“They jumped us from the start and had more energy,” said junior guard Willy Pflug. “But, we came out in the second half and competed. I guess that’s all we could’ve done. We regrouped at halftime and just came out battling. We changed our mindset.”

In the first half, Sunset struggled with Churchill’s athleticism, high-speed hands and fast feet that slid to cut off dribble drives and turned the Apollos over. A team that likes to pressure 94 feet and run at any given opportunity, even on opponents’ makes, the Lancers upturned the first half into an And1 mixtape of spectacular finishes at the rim, pickpockets at the expense of Sunset and three-point barrages against the Apollos’ 2-3 zone.

“We needed more energy and passion at the start,” said sophomore point guard Zach Niebergall.

Harris noted Churchill was the first team Sunset’s faced all year that denied the wings so tenaciously and badgered the basketball with man-to-man defense. But, once the Apollos settled into the flow of the game and turned their own tempo, Sunset looked and played like the state title contender many expect them to be.

“We got our confidence back,” said Harris. “We were more physical and adapted to the pressure better. We learned to adjust.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior point guard Glenn Tanguy dribbles past Churchill's Malik Morgan in the open court during the second quarter of the Apollos' loss to the Lancers in the first round of the Les Schwab Invitational.

Sunset pulled within 63-50 with 2:50 left in the fourth when Harris, senior wing Jeff Bieber and senior post Tyler Gutierrez each began to attack and get in-sync offensively. Harris’ steal and score with 1:35 to go closed the gap to 69-56.

“In the second half, we came back and fought through it,” said Niebergall. “It was a lot better. We executed better and were just more confident with the ball. Our offense had more ball movement too.”

Pflug said Sunset was able to do what it wanted offensively in the second half as the game opened up and the Apollos relieved Churchill’s constant pressure with better ballhandling. Bieber was terrific, scoring 21 points on 9-11 shooting to accompany 12 rebounds and 3 assists. Gutierrez (11 points, 7 boards) and Harris (14 points, 5 boards) helped revitalize the Apollo offense, which shot 50 percent from the field, outscored the Lancers, 46-39, in the second half.

Glenn Tanguy scored 8 points, including an old-fashioned four-point play at the buzzer in the fourth. Pflug drained two threes and finished with 8 points.

“We started taking care of the ball and moving it,” said Pflug. “Once we got it moving, it spread them out. We won the second half because of that. We just have to come out more ready. We have to come out with the mindset we had in the second half in the first half. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset post Tyler Gutierrez puts up a jumper against Churchill.

The blueprint on how to beat Sunset, at least for the time being, is in place. And, with Jesuit and Beaverton looking on from the Liberty High bleachers, the Apollos know Metro League opponents are going to try and mimic what the loaded Lancers exploited.

Granted, few teams have the type of gifted run-and-jump athletes that Churchill is endowed with, but Harris said Sunset is now prepped for whatever close-fisted defenses lie ahead.

If anything, the Churchill game was a blessing in disguise. With two months to go before the 6A state tournament and a slew of Metro League battles looming, Sunset was exposed to its faults and what it has to shore up most if it plans on fulfilling its preseason mission of being crowned 6A state champions.

“Teams are definitely going to look at that because that was our weakness that game,” said Harris. “We’re just going to have to turn it into a strength and learn to break it down.”

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