PORTLAND – Adversity has been a theme so far this boys basketball season for Westside Christian, the No. 1 team in the OSAAtoday 3A coaches poll.
So perhaps it's no surprise that the Eagles were able to shake off another dose on the road Tuesday night to beat No. 2 De La Salle North Catholic 57-51 in the Lewis & Clark League opener.
The Eagles (8-0) absorbed one haymaker in the first quarter when the Knights (7-1) hit six three-pointers in a 23-point outburst, then got hit with another in the second quarter when their best player, senior guard Landon Thom, left the game with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.
They were able to maintain their focus, though, to get a leg up in the league race.
“We knew it was probably going to be one our toughest games,” said Westside Christian 6-foot-5 senior guard Jake Hergert, who had a team-high 17 points, 11 rebounds and four steals. “So it's nice to come together as a team, especially the first game of our league, and pull out this win. It gives us a little confidence booster for the rest of the season.”
Last season, the Eagles split two games with De La Salle North Catholic and ended the Knights' six-year reign in the league. So they knew De La Salle North Catholic – playing in its bright, shiny, new gym on its northeast Portland campus – would be amped up for Tuesday's game.
“De La Salle has been the top dog for a lot of years,” Westside Christian coach David Henry said of the Knights, 3A champions in 2018 and 2019. “The first game, opening league, it's always good to be 1-0. But it definitely means a lot with the respect that we have for their program.”
Senior point guard Kamir Hodge had 10 points, 10 rebounds and six steals, senior guard Justice Jackson had 11 points and eight rebounds and senior guard Jaymeson Ye added nine points for the Eagles.
They were able to withstand the early barrage of three-pointers and lock down on defense, holding the Knights to 28 points in the final three quarters. De La Salle North Catholic went 6 of 9 from behind the arc in the first quarter – opening a 23-15 lead – but went 2 of 23 from deep the rest of the way, including 0 for 15 in the second half.
“It was definitely a little nerve-wracking,” Hergert said of the Knights' early shooting. “They came out, they wanted it real bad. But especially coming out of the locker room in the second half, we just pulled together as a team and started playing more team ball. We definitely were communicating, too, which is one of the things that coach has been harping on.”
It's not the first time the Eagles have started slow this season.
“It's kind of been a trend,” Henry said. “It's not a good trend. But it's been about a quarter-and-a-half where we've been kind of easing our way into it, and then we start tightening up in the second and third quarter. We've had some big defensive quarters, and that's really helped us out in several of our games. It certainly did tonight.”
The Eagles trailed 31-28 at half and pulled even at 33-33 on a three-pointer by senior guard Eli Lerman. Westside Christian opened a 45-39 lead midway through the fourth quarter, and after the Knights closed to within 49-46 with 2:43 left, the Eagles made six free throws in an 8-1 run to pull away down the stretch.
TJ Latu, a 6-1 sophomore guard, led De La Salle North Catholic with 19 points, one above his season average. Senior wing Marqui Scott made four three-pointers and scored 13 points, all in the first quarter.
“A lot of it at the beginning of the game was just that energy,” Knights coach James Broadous II said. “They haven't played a game, they haven't practiced, in a week-and-a-half. So it was just sort of that big-game energy, and we were hitting shots. And then after that wears off, then you've got to execute. And we just sort of ran out of gas, and just didn't execute after that.”
The stout, left-handed Latu kept De La Salle North Catholic in the game with 12 points in the second half.
“He's just scratching the surface on how good he can be,” Broadous said. “He's got a lot of tools in his tool belt. He's a three-level scorer. And he's a sophomore, so he's still learning the game, the pace of the game. He's going to be a big-time player for us.”
Westside Christian, which also holds wins over No. 4 Dayton and No. 7 Santiam Christian, has dealt with injuries throughout the first month of the season.
Jackson (ankle) was playing his first game of the season and Hergert (ankle) and senior forward Ben Lammers (ankle) were playing for the first time in two weeks. Thom had been out since straining his hamstring Dec. 9 against Dayton.
In Tuesday's game, Thom went down under the basket during a frenetic sequence early in the second quarter, was carried off the court and had his left knee wrapped in ice. The loss of Thom – considered by Henry as a 3A player of the year candidate – would be a serious blow to the Eagles.
“I think he's one of the top one or two players in the state in our classification,” Henry said. “But the last two or three years, he's had the worst luck. Part of it is he plays so stinkin' hard. We love that about him, but at the same time, it's heartbreaking to see that, especially his senior year. Because he's likely done at this point.”
The senior-dominated Eagles still believe they have enough to win their first state championship.
“We'll win state,” Hergert said. “We have a very deep bench, so we'll keep going through. Hopefully, we'll play smarter and not get those injuries.”
The Knights will get another crack at the Eagles on Jan. 22 at Westside Christian.
“They're a good basketball team,” Broadous said. “Coach has always been a good coach, and now he's got talent to coach. So it's a pretty even matchup. You don't like to lose, but that's a good basketball team. We feel like we'll meet them again and we'll be at a better point in the season, and we'll be all right.”