Centralia slowed down the quick-shooting Tumwater Thunderbirds to grinding half-court sets Tuesday night and picked up key free throws down the stretch to beat the
T-Birds 50-38, evening the season series and breaking a second-place tie in the EvCo.
"It's nice to get a win at home, especially against a top team like them," said Centralia's Sean Meehan, who scored a game-high 19 points and pulled down nine rebounds, six on the offensive end.
Nick Smith scored 11 points for Tumwater (10-5, 6-3 EvCo), which never got into an offensive rhythm against the Tigers and couldn't score in transition. The T-Birds shot just 14-for-46 for the game (30.4 percent) but never seriously threatened after cutting the deficit to 35-32 with 5:40 remaining in the fourth quarter.
"We didn't shoot the ball good today," Smith said.
"What we need to work on is when we're not shooting well, to win with other things," Smith added. "Right now when we don't shoot the ball good, other parts of our game are weaker, too."
The first culprit is rebounding, where the Tigers (12-4, 7-2) outhustled the T-Birds nearly every time down the court. Meehan scored three times on second-chance attempts, and Mark McHugh and Isaac Moog combined for 13 boards.
"We work hard every day in practice on rebounding," Meehan said. "It's one of our strengths. It's one of the biggest parts of the game, and I think we capitalized on that tonight."
Another key ingredient is ball handling. Centralia forced 13 Tumwater turnovers and gave it up only six times.
"We did take care of the ball well," Tigers coach Ron Brown said. "That's pretty good for a critical game like this."
But most importantly, when a team shoots without getting much pressure, it needs to knock down the shot more often than not.
"I think we had some pretty open looks, they just didn't go in," Tumwater coach Marty Reid said. "There's not a whole lot you can do about that."
Not that Centralia did much better. The Tigers, still trying to gel as a team after many of their players competed in the state football championship game in December, went just 18-for-51 from the field. But they converted nine of 10 attempts from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to win going away.
"We keep winning when we're in the 30s (shooting percentage), which is ridiculous with today's shooters, but we'll take it," Brown said.
"We keep thinking we'll have a breakout game when everyone shoots well."
Tumwater's Daniel DeVries was hot early on, sinking a 3-pointer from the top of the key and converting a rare four-point play to give the T-Birds a 6-2 lead.
DeVries added three free throws in the third quarter after he was fouled on another 3-point attempt, but after two ties and five lead changes in the first half, the Tigers took control when McHugh dropped in an easy basket inside the paint and followed it up with a jumper from the baseline for a 35-25 cushion with 1:38 left in the third.
Nick Smith nailed a 3-pointer toward the end of the period, and Zach Johnson and DeVries followed with baskets to make it a three-point game at the 5:40 mark of the fourth, but Meehan converted a brilliant pass from Moog and McHugh dropped in a 15-foot jumper from the left side to widen the margin.
Centralia never looked back.
"Something we've been trying to work on is to make smarter decisions, and I think we made them tonight," Tigers point guard Justin Gabbard said. "When you make better decisions, the game seems to slow down a little bit."
And from that, the T-Birds couldn't recover. Meehan's 19-point effort powers Centralia