Beaverton locks up Sunset's shooters in the second half for Metro win

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton junior Nolan Bertain looks for an open teammate in the third quarter against Sunset

The squad left standing when the dust settled after the two best gunslinging teams in the Metro League were done lobbing long-range bombs at each other was the one who actually defused the altercation with defense.

Beaverton withstood the Apollos' meteor shower of outside shooting after getting incinerated by Sunset's seven three-pointers in the first half and held their Metro foe to a trio of insignificant fourth quarter threes. Meanwhile, the Beavers' pipe bomb of an offensive attack exploded with a second-half shooting display of their own, all of which amounted to an 80-72 win over Sunset on Friday at Beaverton High.

Week by week Beaverton is proving it can win a game in different ways: comebacks, blowouts, down-to-the-wire grinders or old school shootouts such as Friday.

“We showed some composure tonight,” said Beaverton junior point guard Cole Johanson, who had 12 points and three assists. “We were ready for Sunset. We knew they were one of the best teams in Metro and we couldn't overlook them. It's a good to care of those games you need to take care of. We took care of business.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset junior power forward Reed Brown and Beaverton junior power forward Hunter Sweet battle for a rebound during the Beavers win over the Apollos on Friday.

Sunset and Beaverton combined for 18 threes in an entertaining up-and-down affair that saw each squad get hot for long stretches and sustain a high level of offensive proficiency. Sunset singed the Beavers with seven triples — three of which came from senior point guard Zach Niebergall — in the first quarter. Sunset got up by as much as 13 in the second quarter thanks to triples from Reed Brown and Ely Kelton, but Beaverton's Niko Bevens and Hunter Sweet kept the Beavers in it with their own personal scoring sprees. Sweet poured in six straight at one point, and Bevens caught flame scoring eight unanswered points including back-to-back threes with his hiccup-quick outside release. Sunset strived to bury the Beavers with their aerial display from three-point land, but the Beavers wouldn't budge and only trailed 38-34 at the half.

Instead, Beaverton bagged a trio of threes from Sweet, Johanson and Bevens to begin the third quarter to regain a 47-42 lead. Rarely was there an instance of the basketball sticking in one Beaver's hands for too long as the orange orbited to open player after open player for clear perimeter attempts. Johanson's three-pointer gave Beaverton the edge for good. Bevens' make was the result of beautiful ball movement and excellent floor spacing by the Beavers that set up a Jaime Sweatman jump pass to Bevens by himself for three. Sweet led the Beavers with 21 points while Bertain had 20 and Bevens tacked on 17.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton senior forward Niko Bevens puts up a layup over Sunsets Ely Kelton in the fourth quarter of the Beavers win over Sunset on Friday.

“We have stretches where our offense catches fire,” said Johanson. “So, as long as we can keep the game close, stay in the game and make those big offensive runs we know we're prone to doing...sometimes you just have to wait for people to hit shots to get it going. We just have to wait our offense to explode.”

More importantly, Beaverton's perimeter defense dusted itself off after the first half debacle and started closing out hard on Sunset's top marksmen while contesting every shot that went airborne on the Apollos' end. Niebergall, Brown and Blake Dyer scored in the paint to keep Sunset within 47-46, but Sweatman banked in a layup and Sweet and Nolan Bertain each made two free throws to give Beaverton a 53-48 lead at the end of the third.

“We turned it up in the first five minutes of the third,” said Sweatman who had eight points and four assists. “We got the crowd on our side and just fed off it. Our shots are going to fall. We have some of the best shooters in the state. We just had to bring the defensive intensity and do what we do on defense.”

Sunset, a team whose lifeblood tends to be the three ball, didn't make its first three of the second half until there was 1:43 left in the fourth after Beaverton had built a 68-56 lead.

“Beaverton made some adjustments at halftime that rattled us a bit,” said Sunset senior wing Alex Stickel. “We should've made some plays at the right time, but Beaverton has a bunch of great players. Hopefully we get it rolling again.”

Sweatman and Johanson gave ample credit to Beaverton junior backup point Carson Crawford, who came off the bench and used his lateral quickness to try and jam up Niebergall and prevented him making detrimental drives to the rim. Niebergall still got his points in the second half, but Beaverton did an admirable of taking away the Apollo point guard's teammates on the wings and made them less effective when the senior guard got into the lane.

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Beaverton junior forward Hunter Sweet ducks under a Sunset double team for two against the Apollos on Friday night.

To boot, Beaverton went small with its lineup, using Sweatman for most of the second half on Dyer while using Sweet at the center spot. The move by Andrew Vancil put more playmaking and defensive prowess on the floor in Sweatman while allowing Sweet to battle with Brown on the boards.

“It's really heart when it comes down to it,” said Bevens. “It came down to who wanted the game more. We dug down deep for that We knew they were a good outside shooting team like us. Niebergall, Kelton, they're all great shooters. So, we tried to focus and key on them.”

Niebergall was no doubt the top instigator on Sunset's side of floor, scoring a game-high 29 points. Johanson said taking Niebergall away was atop Beaverton's scouting report, and once the whirling dervish started terrorizing the Beavers in the first half with his breakneck speed and jerky handles limiting the point guard became even more paramount.

Beaverton's offense kept humming at a high clip in the fourth when Sweatman stuck a top-of-the key three-pointer. Brown banked in a lefty layup to within 62-55 but Bertain answered big by lacing a three from the right wing to extend Beaverton's lead back up to 65-55. Sunset's Charlie Hay hit a three with 1:13 left in the fourth to pull with 72-66, but Beaverton got to the free throw line 21 times in the fourth quarter and made the most of the frequented trips with 19 makes.

Beaverton moved to 8-1 in Metro and 15-4 overall. The Beavers have won its last four games and currently have a two-game lead on second place in the Metro standings with a huge home rematch against Westview looming. Westview crushed Southridge 64-48 on Friday and is currently 9-0 in Metro. Sunset lost its second straight road game this week.

“Every game is a must-win right now,” said Sweatman. “That's our mindset every game. If we play our game, we're going to be tough. We're feeling good. We're going to see what happens and try to go for it.”

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Sunset senior point guard Zach Niebergall celebrates one of his four three-pointers against Beaverton on Friday during the Apollos loss.

At 5-4 in Metro, the Apollos are fourth in league but with three winnable home games upcoming and road date with Century before facing Westview in the season finale, Sunset could be well on its way to securing one of the league's four automatic playoff bids. Three of the Apollos' four league losses have been by eight points or less, something Stickel said can be salvaged with some good old fashioned home cooking and a knowhow of how close out a tight game.

“It's all about bouncing back and having that snow ball effect building up to the playoffs,” said Stickel. “We can't dwell on the past. We just have to keep moving forward. We've been overlooked a bit, but we just have to play 32 minutes of good basketball, play as a team and get those games in our favor.”

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