McNary forward Carson Long (right) boxes out Forest Grove’s Ayden Case to get in position for an offensive rebound (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary boys basketball team held the lead for less than four seconds in the second half.

Fortunately for the Celtics, it was enough to pull out the victory in their final non-conference game. 

Nate Meithof, who led McNary with 18 points, knocked down the game-winning free throw with 3.1 seconds left as the Celtics erased a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to defeat Forest Grove 58-57 on Friday, Jan. 10.

“When we’re down, we aren’t going to give up. Even when we were down by 10, we kept things going and kept our confidence up,” Meithof said. 

These two teams met back on Dec. 28 in a tournament at North Medford. In that game, Meithof went off for a career-high 39 points in McNary’s 64-43 victory.

This time around, Forest Grove implemented a new defensive strategy to try and neutralize Meithof, having a player face-guard McNary’s star at all times. When Meithof did get his hands on the ball, another defender would rotate over to provide an extra line of defense. 

Even though Forest Grove played with more physicality in this contest, Meithof remained poised and didn’t force anything on the offensive end, while still being productive.

“I was proud of Nate’s composure. He was frustrated, they were holding him and fouling him. But he never let it show in his body language. He never said a single thing all night. And he made some huge plays at the end for us,” McNary head coach Ryan Kirch said. 

Meithof hit a pair of field goals in the opening quarter to give McNary a 12-9 advantage. However, Forest Grove was able to take advantage of multiple defensive breakdowns by the Celtics in the following quarter.

The Vikings exploded for 24 points in the second period — most of which coming in the paint — and possessed all the momentum as they took a 35-28 lead into the half. 

“With an inexperienced and young group, you’re going to have inconsistencies. A lot of it is coaching. We have to do a better job making sure they’re playing 32 minutes consistently,” Kirch said. “They are a well disciplined team offensively and if you turn your head the wrong way, they are going to beat you backdoor.”

McNary got it going from behind the three-point line to open up the second half as Kyler Rodriguez knocked down a pair of shots from behind the arc. Junior Nunez and Tyler Copeland each nailed triples as well, but Forest Grove continued to keep the Celtics at arm’s length by getting easy hoops in the third quarter.

The Vikings extended their lead to 53-43 to begin the fourth quarter after a 3-pointer by Braden Hudgins. But later in the period, Meithof made his mark on the game.

Meithof was held to just nine points in the first three periods and, at this point, hadn’t scored in the second half. But the junior shooting guard got himself going on offense with a pair of hoops on back-to-back possessions off offensive rebounds.

On McNary’s following trip, Meithof nailed a baseline triple to cut the Forest Grove lead to five. Moments later, Meithof found Jaime Ochoa, who hit a shot of his own from the outside, completing the Celtics 10-2 run and trimming the deficit to 55-53.

“It gave us the momentum. Our bench turned up and it helped us be better on defense. We just turned up in that fourth quarter,” Meithof said. 

Late in the period, a Forest Grove bucket put them up 57-53 with just over two minutes left in the game. But after a long McNary possession, McNary point guard Jando Gonzalez hit a clutch shot from behind the arc to cut the lead to one with 1:15 remaining.

After a defensive stop, Meithof was fouled on a drive to the hoop and hit one of two free throws to tie the game with 35 ticks on the clock.

It appeared that Forest Grove would try and hold for the final shot, but a missed baseline jumper by Hudgins with 10 seconds left gave the Celtics the opportunity for the win.

Meithof corralled the rebound, headed up the floor and was fouled hard in the lane with 3.1 seconds remaining. Even though he missed his first foul shot, Meithof calmly knocked down the second one to give the Celtics their first lead of the second half.

Forest Grove had a couple of desperation opportunities that both resulted in turnovers as the Celtics escaped with a crucial victory.

“We’re just maturing and growing each and every game. Certainly proud of our guys and happy for the win,” Kirch said.

McNary opens up Mountain Valley Conference play at West Salem at 7:15 p.m.