McNary point guard Jando Gonzalez prepares to crossover (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

It’s still early in the season, but it appears that the identity of the McNary boys basketball team can be found in their defense. 

The Celtics tenacious full-court press gave McMinnville fits for the majority of the night as the Celtics moved to 2-0 on the season with a 53-38 victory over the Grizzlies on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

McNary has held both of their opponents this season to under 45 points. 

“We always pride ourselves on our defense. We have a lot of quickness and we have a lot of tough guys who can guard one-on-one. We want to make everything difficult when we’re defending. Our guys take a lot of pride in that,” McNary head coach Ryan Kirch said. 

The Celtics got back-to-back triples from Nate Meithof and Riley Flores to jump out to an early 6-2 lead. Flores got an easy lay-up in transition moments later to increase the lead to six, which was followed by another triple by Meithof after McNary forced McMinnville into a 10-second violation. 

McMinnville trimmed the deficit to 16-11 by the end of the first quarter, but the Celtics continued to create offensive opportunities with their ball-pressure.

McNary forced three turnovers in a four-minute stretch in the second quarter, which allowed them to go on an 11-3 run to take a 27-14 lead late in the period. 

“Every time we got a deflection or steal, it gave us more momentum and helped us on offense,” said Meithof, who led McNary with 21 points.

“You can see when defense turns into offense, it can be backbreaking for a team,” Kirch added.

After taking a 29-18 lead into halftime, freshman point guard Jando Gonzalez opened up the third quarter by nailing consecutive triples to increase McNary’s lead to 35-16. 

The Celtics lead by as much as 25 points in the third period. 

“We played with the energy and intensity that we wanted to play with. We have a lot of depth, and our guys who come off the bench keep that same energy,” said McNary senior Jaime Ochoa. 

The other key on the defensive end was controlling the production of McMinnville big man Jarrett Boumann.

One of McNary’s main weaknesses is their lack of size, which the 6-foot-7 Boumann exposed by scoring eight points in the first quarter. 

However, the Celtics held Boumann to just five points for the remainder of the game, in large part due to the defense of Zane Aicher and Issac Johnson. Despite the height disadvantage — Aicher is 5’10 and Johnson is 6’2 — both Johnson and Aicher were able to do a better job of keeping Boumann out of the paint in the second half.

“Both Issac and Zane did an unbelievable job of fronting the post. I don’t care if our guys our six inches taller or six inches shorter, that doesn’t affect our effort and energy,” Kirch said. “We still have some things we got to coach up, but I like our demeanor at this point in the season,” Kirch said. 

McNary returns to their home floor on Friday, Dec. 13 when they take on Madison at 7:15 p.m.