Beavers stem the first tide, take down Scots
What felt like Beaverton's breaking point was actually a blessing in disguise.
It was around the midway point of the second quarter of the Beaver boys' basketball team's non-league contest with McKay, after Beaverton started slow and found itself in catch-up mode.
Beaverton star wing Jake Estep picked up his third foul with 4:12 to go on a highly questionable offensive foul call right underneath the basket. And head coach Andrew Vancil was administered a technical foul after venting his frustration to the reeling referee crew. McKay made one of two at the free throw to go up 28-17. This was Beaverton's last game before the holiday break. Suddenly they didn't have their superstar and five unproven players were on the floor together. The game could've easily gotten away.
But Beaverton braved the elements. The team's young core of Bennett Giebels, Mike Gooding, Mason Stewart-Carothers, Isaac Rosenthal and Moses Okullu evolved before Vancil's eyes, playing the brand of two-way basketball Beaverton is known for. That double-digit deficit shrunk to 35-31 at the half.
And when Estep re-entered the game in the second half, with his youthful teammates feeling more confident and assertive, Beaverton blew the doors off McKay. Estep scored 24 of his 26 points in the second half as the Beavers raced to a 73-61 win over the Scots on Dec. 21.
The supposed second-quarter breakdown could end up being a breakthrough for this green Beaver team that saw a number of unseasoned supporting players step up big against a surprisingly spunky Scot squad.
"Those guys were spectacular tonight," Estep said. "That's what you want when things don't go your way. You want the bench to pick you up, so it was great. We came out a little fast, but once we settled down I thought we played very well."
"We really came together," Stewart-Carothers said. "In the first half we really weren't playing together, but we went in the locker room, talked it out and came back as a team."
Estep is Beaverton's bellwether, the mail carrier who's counted on for across-the-board production from scoring to rebounding to playing tough defense. He's a Western Oregon signee coming off a spectacular junior campaign in which he broke out personally and helped the Beavers reached the semifinals of the Class 6A state tournament. Estep is a sensational scorer who can go on elongated sprees as he did against the Scots, scoring 26 without making a three-point attempt.
But as good as Estep is, he knows he can't go at it alone. McKay threw a box-and-one defense at Estep in the first half, face-guarding the 6-foot-4 wing, denying him the ball in his sweet spots. The Scot defense had all 10 eyes glued to the marksman's whereabouts at all instances. At times, Estep was doubled, not when he had the ball, but when he was two passes away. He was the source of offense McKay wanted to take away by any means.
In those cases, when an opponent will do anything to limit Estep's looks, it's imperative the other four players on the court rise to the occasion and make their foe pay the price. Such was the case when Estep went to the bench in the second quarter.
Giebels attacked the rim at will, getting hoops inside while drawing fouls on the flopping Senators. Okullu went up high for a defensive board and flung an on the money outlet pass to Rosenthal for the fastbreak bucket to bring Beaverton within 30-26. And the big man finished a floater off a nice drive and spoon feed from Rosenthal to close within 32-31 with 30 seconds left in the frame. Beaverton's defense, quiet and slower than normal in the first quarter, played with high energy and communication. Gooding, Rosenthal and Stewart-Carothers swarmed around the Beaver 2-3 zone, shutting down passing lanes, tipping passes, snaring rebounds and bolting the break in transition. As Estep sat next to Vancil on the bench, Beaverton made its move to make it a game.
"We knew Jake was off the court and without him, other guys have to step up," Stewart-Carothers said. "That was the biggest thing. Easy stops led to easy buckets, so when we got stops, those turned into layups."
What's best about Beaverton's second quarter yield is that the energy and effort carried over into the second half. The Beavers sustained the same hyperactive defense, taking tactical swipes at the ball, helping on drives, converging around the paint and played hard. Estep scored eight in the third including a sick Euro-step around a defender after Gooding came up with a steal and flung a home run outlet pass down the floor. Beaverton reclaimed a 39-38 lead on a Gooding layup with three minutes to go in the third and extended the edge to 46-38 with an Estep putback.
Giebels garnered 11 of his 19 points in the fourth quarter on a variety of threes and transition buckets brought about by Beaverton's press break. The sophomore forward gave the Beavers an injection of bounce off the bench and filled in nicely during Estep's four-minute hiatus. Stewart-Carothers stood out too, hitting three first-quarter threes on his way to 12 points. Estep gorged on a number of paint touches, pouring on 14 more fourth-quarter points in the paint to add to his game-high total. But it was the efforts of Giebels, Stewart-Carothers, Okullu and Gooding that gave the senior captain reason for celebration. No longer can teams take Estep out with tactical defense. If they do so, the Beaver newcomers can hold their own.
"When you have guys like that, it kind of takes the pressure off of my shoulders," Estep said. "It opens up the game for them and it also opens up the game for me. Mason was hitting in the first quarter and Bennett came in a gave a great performance. We need that from those guys. You're either gonna take away me or take away the other guys."
Much has been made about Southridge's prowess, its lofty No. 2 ranking in the 6A coaches' poll and the potential to contend for a state title. And there's good reason to believe the Skyhawks, who are still undefeated, have the look of a team that can go deep just as Beaverton did a year ago. But that aside, the Beavers (5-2, 2-1) aren't going to step aside and let Southridge take away the crown they've held the past two seasons. Beaverton is incredibly well-coached by Vancil and his staff. They'll battle anybody and the young players appear to be finding their footing. Estep is the early leader for Player of the Year in the conference. Brush aside Beaverton all you want after they lost six key rotational players, but the Beavers are entrenched in the Metro infrastructure.
"We're a team that will fight for each other every day," Stewart-Carothers said. "People say we're not gonna win Metro, but that's our goal. It's motivating for us."
"When you want to go to war together, that's the most important thing," Estep said. "We love playing with each other and love each other."