Jando Gonzalez puts up a shot in traffic in McNary’s 68-66 loss to West Salem on Tuesday, Feb. 11. Gonzalez was in double-figures with 11 points (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

The McNary boys hoops team defeated West Salem in a 64-63 thriller the last time these two teams met up in January.

Once again, the two squads gave the fans an entertaining battle in their most recent matchup, only this time, McNary ended up on the short end. 

The Celtics had a chance to win twice in the final seconds, but both shots were off the mark as McNary fell to West Salem by a score of 68-66 on Tuesday, Feb. 11.

Nate Meithof had 19 points to lead the Celtics and Jando Gonzalez added 11 points in defeat.

McNary started Mountain Valley Conference play with a 5-0 record, but the Celtics have lost three of there last four to fall to 6-3 — they are tied for second place in the standings with Summit. 

West Salem was without their leading scorer Justin Scoggin, who missed the game due to injury. But even without their top dog, the Titans offense appeared to be firing on all cylinders through much of this contest.

After McNary shooting guard Riley Flores knocked down a triple in the corner, the Titans went on a 10-4 run and were able to get easy buckets both in their half-court offense and in transition.

McNary head coach Ryan Kirch was visibly displeased with his team’s defensive effort for the majority of the game.

“That was probably the worst team defensive performance I can think of in the last six or seven years,” Kirch said. “Right now, defensively, we’re just horrendous in every aspect. From our closeouts, to our communication, to keeping people in front of us. We just have to get better there and commit to that.”

“When the game started, we weren’t focused. We weren’t engaged. It’s a very helpless feeling. It’s not difficult things. It’s just defensive fundamentals. It’s stuff our program has been known for, and maybe I haven’t done a good job of holding us to those fundamentals.”

West Salem got the lead up to 18-10 in the opening period, but four straight free throws by Gonzalez and Meithof trimmed the deficit to four at the end of the quarter.

Meithof scored in the post to begin the second period, but once again, the Titans responded, going on a 7-2 run to go up 27-18. The Titans maintained their nine-point advantage through the second period until Carson Long banked in a 3-pointer before the halftime buzzer sounded to cut the lead to 39-33 at the break. 

But the game started to slip away from the Celtics in the third quarter. The Titans led by as many as 16 in the period and eventually took a 55-42 lead into the fourth. 

Meithof came into the game as the third leading scorer in the state at 23.8 points per game. But West Salem held the star shooting guard in check for most of the contest — Meithof had just nine points entering the final period. 

“It was tough, because once I got past my man, there were two other guys waiting for me,” Meithof said. 

However, despite the deficit, McNary found a way to make things interesting in the final period. 

Meithof got into double-figures by scoring after grabbing an offensive rebound and Gonzalez got the lead down to single-digits by nailing a deep trey. 

The Celtics continued to shoot the ball well from beyond the arc as Meithof and Long each knocked down 3-pointers of their own to make the score 60-55 with just over three minutes remaining.

Three-point shooting was the thing that kept McNary in this one. The Celtics made 12 treys on the night — six of which came in the fourth quarter. 

“We came out with a lot of energy. We pushed the ball and started gaining some momentum in the fourth quarter,” Gonzalez said.

Meithof added: “We got to play like we did in the fourth quarter for the entire game.”

Moments later, Gonzalez buried a shot from beyond the arc. Then, after a Titans turnover, Gunner Smedema hit his second triple of the day to cut the lead to 65-63 with 1:12 remaining. It was the first time McNary had been within two since early in the second quarter.

West Salem had a chance to close the game out, but missed three out of six foul shots down the stretch to leave the door open. Meithof got his crew within one after hitting a banked in 3-pointer in the corner with two guys in his face.

West Salem’s reliable forward Jackson Lowery was sent to the line with 15.5 seconds left on the clock, but even he missed one out of two free throws, giving McNary the opportunity to send the game to overtime, or be in line for the victory, in the last possession.

Kirch called his final timeout to give his team some final instructions

“We were just trying to get Nate the ball and let him make a play. We knew that they were going to face-guard him, so we gave the option of taking a ball-screen or not,” Kirch said. 

Meithof couldn’t shake his defender on the screen and was forced to the baseline after being double-teamed. He took a tough fadeaway triple that didn’t draw iron.

McNary’s Zane Aicher somehow corralled the loose ball and kicked it out to Gonzalez, who hoisted a desperation 3-pointer as the buzzer sounded, but the ball glanced off the rim and fell harmlessly to the hardwood.

“I should have told him to keep the ball-screen away because that brought the double-team. We probably could have done a few things to get a little more movement for him. You just want to get the ball in your best player’s hands,” Kirch said. 

McNary will travel to Bend for their next matchup for a 6:30 p.m. game on Friday, Feb. 14. They will return home to host Mountain View on Tuesday, Feb. 18 at 6:30 p.m.