Beaverton's Aidan Rice, shooting over Tualatin's Jemai Lake, made five three-pointers and scored 26 points. (Photo by Jon Olson)
Beaverton's Aidan Rice, shooting over Tualatin's Jemai Lake, made five three-pointers and scored 26 points. (Photo by Jon Olson)

HILLSBORO – Upon the unveiling of the Les Schwab Invitational bracket, Beaverton's boys basketball team sensed an opportunity to exorcise some demons.

The Beavers' first-round game would be against two-time reigning 6A champion Tualatin, which not only beat them in the state quarterfinals the last two seasons, but also handed them a one-point defeat in last year's LSI.

“Really, Tualatin's been a game we've been wanting to get,” Beaverton senior guard Aidan Rice said. “We were super excited to get them.”

The No. 7 Beavers (6-2) came out on fire, taking control by making eight three-pointers in the first half, and survived a late rally for a 65-60 win over the No. 4 Timberwolves (6-4) on Tuesday at Liberty High School. Beaverton advances to a Thursday quarterfinal against the winner of Wednesday's first-round game between Lake Oswego and Columbus of Miami.

“We knew we could beat them, and that's what we did today,” said Rice, who showed the way with a team-high 26 points, hitting 10 of 18 from the field, including 5 of 10 from three-point range.

Senior guard Max Elmgren scored 18 points, 6-foot-11 senior center Chance Winter had 13 points, nine rebounds and three blocks and senior guard Max Campbell added six points, 11 rebounds and five assists.

The win represented a breakthrough of sorts for the Beavers.

“Tualatin is the one team we struggled with a ton in the past,” Elmgren said. “Beating them this time kind of gets us over the hump. Now we're just playing.”

Rice and Campbell made three-pointers for a 6-0 lead and Beaverton never trailed. Tualatin fought back to within 36-35 late in the first half, but the Beavers responded to build the lead as high as 54-41 with 6:40 left in the game.

Beaverton missed three free throws in the final 1:18 to leave the door open for the Timberwolves, who nearly capitalized on the opportunity.

Down 63-59 with 10 seconds left, Tualatin senior Jaden Steppe went to the line for two free throws. He hit the first to make it 63-60, and after missing the second, the Timberwolves grabbed the rebound and found senior Zach Zuckerman alone in the corner for a potential tying three-point attempt.

Zuckerman misfired, but Steppe snagged the rebound and passed it back to Zuckerman, who missed another three-point try from the corner. Beaverton rebounded and Winter made two free throws with 0.4 seconds left for the final margin.

The Colorado State-bound Steppe led Tualatin with 18 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, three blocks and one steal. Sophomore point guard Jemai Lake and senior guard AJ Noland added 15 and 14 points, respectively.

“Credit to them. They shot the hell out of the ball in the first half,” Noland said of the Beavers, who were 8 of 17 from deep in the first half and finished 9 of 22. “We just couldn't end up digging ourselves out of a hole. Got in a little too deep. I look forward to playing them again.”

Beaverton's two losses this season were 69-59 at No. 2 Barlow in the season opener and 60-43 against St. Joseph's (Calif.) in the Capitol City Classic last week. Poor shooting cost the Beavers in the loss to Barlow.

“There was definitely a lid on the rim for our shooting,” Winter said. “It was more just nerves. First game of the year, we had to get it out. We're looking to only go up from here.”

With experienced senior guards and an interior presence in Winter, Beaverton figures to be a player in 6A.

“We've got arguably two of the best guards in the state, and Chance Winter is phenomenal,” Elmgren said. “We're as good as we want to be. We hold our own destiny. It's going to come down to whether or not we come to play every single night.”

The Beavers' confidence is building.

“I feel like we can win it all,” Rice said. “We're really coming together as a team. It's exciting to see.”

Said Winter: “We're looking to make a statement this year.”

Tualatin also has lost to No. 6 Mountainside 64-46, Barlow 69-59 and Northwood (N.C.) 73-64.

The Timberwolves are trying to put together the pieces after two key players were injured in the 6A football final in senior forward Jayden Fortier (torn ACL) and junior forward Nolan Keeney (broken collarbone). Fortier is scheduled for surgery Wednesday and is out for the season. Keeney is out indefinitely.

“I feel like each game we're getting better with each other,” Noland said. “Everybody is still trying to figure out their roles. But we know we're only going to get better from here. I look forward to seeing how we play at the end of the season.”

LSI first round

In other first-round action at the LSI on Tuesday, Barlow defeated Mountainside 67-34. Mason Bierbrauer had 17 points and Brayden Barron added 13 points and eight rebounds for the Bruins. Brayden Boe had nine points, eight rebounds and four steals to lead the Mavericks. ... Marley Zeller shot 6 of 7 from three-point range and scored 21 points to help lead 6A No. 1 Central Catholic past 3A No. 1 Cascade Christian 93-43. ... Southridge, No. 5 in 6A, dominated 5A No. 1 Summit 79-59. Kaden Groenig had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists in the win.