Crusaders laying low going into 6A state tournament Thursday

by: TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Jesuit junior point guard Reid Bucy and the Crusaders take on South Medford at 6:30 p.m. in the 6A state quarterfinals on Thursday.

The words “dark horse” and “Jesuit” aren't often uttered in the same sentence in any sport, really.

Yet, when it comes to examining this year's version of the boys' basketball team, and its chances at going on a run at the 6A state tournament, the Crusaders are flying well below the radar.

When discussing this year's 6A state contenders, Jesuit's often been the fifth or sixth squad brought up behind the likes of West Linn, Sunset, South Salem and Clackamas. For the first time since 2008, the Crusaders didn't win the Metro League. That distinction went to Sunset. Jesuit didn't reach the finals of the Les Schwab Invitational as it has countless times in the past decade. Payton Pritchard and the Lions were the ones upsetting national powers and making noise on the state scene.

Jesuit hasn't been sub-par by any means. The Crusaders used their stout defensive methods to get within a quarter of beating the Apollos for another Metro title. They beat Reynolds, 53-41, on Saturday to clinch a berth in the 6A state tournament on Thursday against South Medford at 3:15 p.m. in the Moda Center.

The shoe, however, is on the other foot. Now, Jesuit is the squad seeking respect. The Crusaders are the ones hungry to show what they're made of, to prove their still among the 6A's elite.

“We're the underdogs, but we're ready to play,” said senior guard Jack Bell. “Together, when we play well, we're hard to beat. To be in that final eight is quite an accomplishment, but our work isn't done. We have more ahead of us. That's for sure.”

“Right now, we just have to take it game-by-game hopefully to get that title,” said junior guard Reid Bucy. “Playing under the lights, warming up, the whole experience is awesome.

“I think we're gelling really well right now, which is what you need to do in the playoffs. Luckily for us, we're all on the same page, playing hard defense and hitting shots.”

“A lot of people doubted us, and we proved against a couple good teams (Reynolds and Barlow) that we can make it,” said senior power forward Henry Mondeaux. “It feels really nice to be back.”

“The whole tournament is going to be wide open, but we're definitely going to be a team to beat,” said senior guard Dan Nelson. “We've been playing really well lately, and I think we're going to keep that going.”

The Crusaders were ice-cold to open the game, and Reynolds was stalwart defensively for most of the first half. Jesuit produced just one point in the first six minutes and five points in the first 10 minutes. Led by Drew Eubanks’ seven points on the Reynolds' end, the Raiders held a 12-5 lead with 5:40 left in the second quarter. Jesuit made up a few baskets, but Reynolds was still feeling pretty good about itself as it led 15-12 with one minute remaining in the first half.

The trajectory of the game flipped in that final minute.

A tight press

When Reynolds took its three-point lead, Jesuit implemented a tight press defense that threw the Raiders’ offense out of whack. The Crusaders forced three turnovers in 20 seconds with their press that led to seven quick points, five by Bucy. An added free throw from Bucy at the end of the second period completed an 8-0 Jesuit run to end the half. In 60 seconds, Jesuit went from trailing by three to leading 20-15.

“We have to have something to hang our hat on, and that's definitely going to be our defense,” said Nelson. “Our offense comes from our defense. So, when we're playing hard and playing together on defense, I think it's really good for us. If it's constant, that'll get us through.”

“It was difficult to make shots, but our defense got us back in the game,” said Bucy. “We used defense to get on the break and then put our foot on the pedal from there. Our defense was working this year, especially because all the players are buying into what coach (Gene Potter) is preaching. We all know our jobs. We know what to do in situations. Our defense always has to be on for us to be in games.”

The turnovers Jesuit forced in the final minute were just a sample of what it caused throughout the night. The Crusaders forced 19 turnovers in the contest, 11 in the first 16 minutes. Jesuit scored 14 of its 20 first-half points off of Reynolds’ giveaways.

“Our defense really allows us to play uptempo,” said Bell. “Today their guards had trouble handling it when we started to play that way. Our defense really generated our offense, which was good for us.”

“We know we're not the best shooting team, but we can always fall back on defense,” said Mondeaux. “You can always play hard, scrap and run around as much as you can.”

Jesuit also kept Reynolds at bay with its knack for rebounding on the offensive side. The Crusaders grabbed a host of offensive boards that turned into second-chance points, especially in the first half.

The six points Jesuit didn’t score off turnovers in the first half came from offensive rebounds.

“You love to play in those close games that come down to one or two possessions,” said Bell. “(Potter) harps on playing the perfect game and really minimizing the little mistakes. At the Moda Center, those mistakes are going to be magnified. We have to cut down on those in order to get a win.”

Jesuit continued to crash the offensive boards in the second half and kept creating second chances. The Crusaders also stayed in the press defensively and generated more points in transition. They led by 10 points for most of the second half and backed into the 13-point victory.

Bucy and Jack Nadelhoffer led Jesuit with 14 points each, and Daniel Nelson added 10.

Parker Lee of the Sandy Bee contributed to this story.

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