Isaiah Montano ends up surrounded by the enemy and looking for an open post in the game with St. Helens High School. (KEIZERTIMES/Eric A. Howald)

By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes

To call the McNary High School boys basketball preseason (2-11) a struggle might be an understatement of criminal proportions.

But as the team closed out its final opponent before heading into league play, its members learned one of the most important lessons: how to win.

“Learning how to win and how to close out a team is huge,” said Ryan Kirch, McNary head coach.

The Celts beat Gresham High School 52-40 in one of their best outings of the season.

“We slowed things down and spread the offense out and we ran it the way we’ve been taught. We haven’t been running a consistent offense, but we adapted to what they were doing,” said McNary senior Justin Burgess, who poured in 19 points against the Gophers and scooped up 10 rebounds.

McNary retained control throughout the game putting in no fewer than 11 points in any quarter.

“It was our best game as a team and I felt like a lot of us came together for the first time. We also kept turnovers to a minimum,” said senior Garren Robinett, who chipped in three points toward the final score.

Johnathan Doutt put up 15 points for the Celts, Isaiah Montano had seven, and Nick McDonald, Dylan McHugh and Connor Goff had two points apiece.

“Nick, Johnathan, Isaiah and Garren did a good job of extending the lead by sharing the ball, making basketball plays and getting to the free throw line,” Kirch said.

In the penultimate preseason game, McNary hit the court with St. Helens High School and the Celts found themselves in familiar territory: a half-time lead and not knowing where to take it from there.

“In four of the last six games, we’ve been in the same situation and we’ve gotten so excited that we’ve had the lead that we stop handling the pressure the other team puts on us when they get desperate,” Kirch said.

McNary was up 15-13 at the half , but things started falling apart on defense when the teams hit the court for the second half. The Lions put in 39 points in the final 16 minutes of the game for a 52-33 win.

“The first half we knew what we were supposed to do, but we didn’t make the changes that we needed to adapt to their style after the half. We turned the ball over quite a bit,” Burgess said.

McNary kicked off league play Tuesday, Jan. 10, with a game against West Salem High School. Regardless of who their opponents are in the coming weeks, Kirch hoped the team would keep its focus on complete-game efforts like the one produced in the Gresham game.

“We’ve had a great four minutes, and a great seven minutes and great halves, but we need 32 minutes of good basketball,” Kirch said.