The McNary boys basketball team has gone through some ups and downs over the last couple weeks.
After getting an upset victory over South Salem Jan. 31, the Celtics suffered their first two home losses of the season against West Salem and Summit.
But on Friday, Feb. 15, McNary was able to get back on track.
Boston Smith led the Celtics with 20 points as McNary avenged their loss to Sprague earlier in the season and defeated the Olympians by a score of 60-46.
Nate Meithof was also in double-figures with 16 points.
McNary guard Nate Meithof prepares to break down a Sprague defender off the dribble. Meithof had 16 points on the night in the Celtics 60-46 victory on Friday, Feb. 15. (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings)
Going into the game, the message that McNary head coach Ryan Kirch sent to his team wasn’t about strategy and assignments. Instead, it was about playing loose and having fun playing the game.
“We have just really focused on having fun,” Kirch said. “Sometimes, you get so worried about X’s and O’s and game-planning, you forget about why you play. When you first pick up a basketball when you’re six years old, you love it because it’s fun.”
“We have really emphasized that in our guys and they’re just having a great time playing for one another right now.”
Sprague took advantage of a trio of McNary turnovers in the early going to grab the 10-5 lead midway through the first quarter. But a baseline 3-pointer from Meithof and a runner off the glass by Alfredo Villareal knotted the score at 10-apiece.
Smith ended the quarter with five quick points on a old-fashioned three-point play as well as a pair of free throws, but Sprague came back to tie the game at 15 going into the second period.
Both teams went stone cold from the field in following quarter, but McNary was able to get the upper hand going into halftime as Meithof and Villareal each knocked down a pair of foul shots to put the Celtics on top 25-22.
When the two squads came out for the start of the second half, McNary was the team that found their offensive groove.
The Celtics went on a 10-2 run in the first three minutes of the third quarter thanks to buckets in the paint from Meithof, Smith and Griffin Oliveira, as well as a 3-pointer by Noah Hudkins.
“We talked at halftime about slowing things down and not being effected by (Sprague’s) pressure,” Meithof said.
Smith would wind up scoring three more times before the end of the period, giving McNary the 42-28 lead going into the final eight minutes of the contest.
“We came out and brought the energy,” Smith said.
While McNary has a solid amount of offensive weapons, the common theme in all of their victories this season has been their outstanding defensive play.
And the Celtics might of played their best defense of the season in this one, holding Sprague to a season-low 46 points.
“They played great defense. We missed some shots we normally make, but you have to tip your hat to them,” Sprague head coach Jordan Graneto said.
Over the course of the season, McNary has given several squads fits with their 2-1-2 zone. But against Sprague, the Celtics played hard man-to-man defense for the majority of the contest.
“It was all about our effort,” Smith said. “Everyone worked hard on (defense) tonight. Nobody was slacking.”
Stopping Sprague’s Kobe Withers was the main focus of the McNary defense. While the junior guard had 32 points in the first meeting between these two teams, Withers was held to just 12 points in this game.
“Every basket (Withers) got tonight was earned,” Kirch said. “We forced other guys to have to make shots. I was really proud of our on-ball defense.”
“We made everything difficult for them and by the end of the night, they got tired.”
Sprague looked like they had a chance to get back into the game in the final period when they cut the lead to seven at 45-38. But McNary scored the next seven points and took a 52-38 lead after a three-point play from Meithof and a layup by Smith.
McNary’s regular season finale will be at home tonight against South Salem at 7:15 p.m. The Celtics will clinch at least a share of a second place in the MVC with the win.