Big fourth quarter puts McNary over the edge

McNary wing Tyler Copeland looks to score in traffic in the Celts 56-49 win over Sprague (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary boys basketball team had a shaky start to the second half. But they made up for it in the final eight minutes.

Trailing 39-34 heading into the final period, the Celtics began the quarter on a 16-2 run, propelling themselves to the 56-49 victory over Sprague on Thursday, Jan. 30.

“We just needed to start slowing it down on offense and get better looks. That’s what helped us pull out the win,” said Nate Meithof, who led McNary with 19 points — 17 of which came in the second half.

While McNary has relied heavily on Meithof’s offensive ability this season — he is currently the third lead scorer in the state — the Celtics had to go without their star shooting guard’s services for the majority of the first half due to foul trouble. 

Fortunately for the Celtics, Meithof’s teammates were able to pick up the slack early on. 

Jando Gonzalez and Kyler Rodriguez hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give McNary the 10-1 lead in the opening quarter. Riley Flores got in on the action later in the period, nailing a pair of triples to extend the Celtics lead to 16-6 at the end of one.

“We never quite know each night who’s going to do what for us, but guys know that we’re going to play the hot hand. The more experience you gain in those situations, the more comfortable you feel,” McNary head coach Ryan Kirch said. “We have really challenged other guys to attack and take what the defense gives us. And now you’re seeing guys who know that they can score and are shooting with a lot of confidence.”

“We have a lot of trust in each other. Everyone knows their role and plays with confidence,” Gonzalez added. “We are all close together, so we don’t ever get down on each other.”

Sprague went on a 9-2 run to cut their deficit to three. But key buckets from Rodriguez and Zane Aicher allowed McNary to hold onto their lead. Tyler Copeland knocked down a pair of free throws at the end of the second quarter to put the Celtics on top 26-17 at half. 

Both teams went back and forth in the first four minutes of the second half, but Sprague ended the third quarter on a 13-0 run to go on top 39-34.

When the final period began, however, the Celtics looked like a completely different team.

A baseline 3-pointer from Copeland and a pair of free throws by Meithof tied the game at 39. Issac Johnson then scored in the post to give the Celtics the lead back.

After the Olympians got a hoop to knot the game at 41, Meithof came back to score seven straight points, including an incredible scoop shot between two defenders while getting fouled.

“My jump shot was off the whole game, so I just started taking it to the rack,” Meithof said.

Aicher scored off an offensive rebound to extend the Celtics lead to 50-41 with less than four minutes remaining, causing Sprague coach Jordan Graneto — a former player and assistant coach for McNary — to use a timeout.

“Playing from behind isn’t anything new for us. It’s a 32-minute game and other teams get tired, but because of our depth, we’re going to have fresh legs coming in,” Kirch said. 

Sprague cut the lead to three with 1:12 left in the contest. But McNary closed the game out at the charity stripe, sinking 11 of 12 free throws in the fourth quarter. 

“The execution at the free throw line was obviously key. When you get into close games, that’s the difference,” Kirch said.

McNary travels to Summit on Saturday, Feb. 8 for a 2:30 p.m. game.