The Falcons improve to 12-2 with wins over their cross-town rivals and North Marion

by: JAIME VALDEZ - Gladstone senior forward Andrew Conway (left) and La Salle senior wing Luke Kolln scrap for a loose ball in last weeks Tri-Valley Conference opener at Gladstone. The Falcons played tough down the stretch in a 49-39 victory.La Salle Prep cagers used sharp shooting and poised play down the stretch to knock off Gladstone 49-39 in an intensely played game between two of the top Class 4A high school boys basketball teams in the state, played at La Salle on Jan. 21. La Salle entered the game ranked No. 3 in the OSAA power rankings; Gladstone was ranked fourth.

The Falcons converted at a .520 clip from the field, with six of their 13 field goals 3-pointers. The Gladiators, in contrast, connected on only 13-of-42 (30 percent) shots from the floor.

The game was tight all the way until the final four minutes, when the Falcons’ near perfect execution of a delay allowed them to take control.

With 4:28 remaining, Gladstone senior guard Ryan Fowler hit two free throws to trim La Salle’s lead to one point, at 40-39.

La Salle coach Jared Curtiss then instructed his charges to turn to more of a delay game. The Gladiators went scoreless the rest of the way, missing all eight of their shots from the floor. The Falcons executed in the delay, hit 6-of-12 free throws, and claimed the spoils.

Hero honors went to La Salle senior wing Chris Dowhaniuk and La Salle junior post Keeston Smith, who teamed up to make a huge play down the stretch.

With his team nursing a 41-39 lead and 2:59 remaining, La Salle senior co-captain Luke Kolln bricked two pressure-packed free throws. Dowhaniuk hustled to claim the rebound for La Salle on the second miss and found Smith wide open in the right corner. Smith launched a 3-pointer — his first of the game — and the ball found nothing but net, stretching the Falcon lead to five points, at 44-39.

The Gladiators, in somewhat of a panic mode, then starting firing up shots from long range.

Kolln, Smith and Valois Gashongore answered the Gladiator misses with free throws, and the game belonged to La Salle.

“Teamwork [has been the key to our success this season],” said Kolln. “It’s not any one guy out there. I might hit 20 points one night; the next night it would be someone else. We share the ball better than any team in the state, and that’s unstoppable.”

Kolln added, “Gladstone’s a great team. They play great on both sides of the ball, defense and offense. They’re easily top three in the state — with us, which makes this rivalry so intense.”

“I think the key tonight was defense,” said Curtiss. “We were contesting shots, taking away their initial looks. We made them take shots they didn’t want to take.”

The contest was a two-point game for much of the first 3-1/2 quarters. Gladstone’s biggest lead was four points at the start of the game. Matt D’Amore hit a 3-point buzzer beater to put La Salle up 26-21 at halftime. That was the Falcons’ biggest lead until the final three minutes of the game.

For most of the game, before Smith hit his late-game 3-pointer, the Gladiators attacked the basket, taking most of their shots from close range.

The taller Falcons, in contrast, scored 15 of their 26 first-half points from long range, with D’Amore, Reece Wible and Matthew Berger combining to hit five 3-pointers before the intermission.

Smith had one of his better games, scoring a game-high 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting, hauling down 11 rebounds and rejecting two shots.

Kolln and Wible scored 10 points and eight points respectively.

Fowler (10 points) and Ryun Gibson (9 points) were the top point-getters for Gladstone.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Curtiss. “We played hard tonight and we beat the best team in the state.”

La Salle improved to 11-2 on the season with the win; Gladstone slipped to 10-3 with the loss. It was the league opener for both teams.

La Salle (12-2, 2-0) continued on track last Friday, winning 66-57 at North Marion.

The Falcons showed up ready to play, building a 29-14 lead in the first quarter and coasting home from there.

“We came out of the locker room shooting well,” Curtiss said. “They sagged in on our bigs and Wible hit two treys, and D’Amore, [Michael] Edwards and Berger all stuck 3’s in first frame.”

Kolln had a big game, scoring 19 points — knocking down 11-of-14 free throws and 4-of-8 field goals.

Smith (11 points) was the only other Falcon in double digits in scoring.

Big games by junior forward Kerry Cook (20 points) and senior guard/forward Kyle Williamson (17 points) allowed the Huskies to close the gap after La Salle’s big first quarter, but the Huskies were unable to catch the Falcons.

Curtiss said that although his Falcons did not play their best defense in Friday’s game at North Marion, defense has been pivotal in the Falcon success story all season.

“We are giving up 30.3 percent shooting on the year,” he said. “Only Seaside and North Marion have eclipsed 38 percent this season.”

The Huskies were 22-of-48 from the field (45.6 percent) in Friday’s loss to the Falcons. The Falcons were 20-of-41 from the field (49 percent) and 21-of-30 (70 percent) from the free throw line.

La Salle hosts Estacada (4-11, 0-2) this Friday and the Falcons play Molalla (4-12, 2-0) on the road next Tuesday.