One of the concerns coach Allen Thomas had when Timberline High School dropped down to the 3A classification this season was whether the Blazers could compete with programs from the star-studded Metro League.
After playing Cleveland in a nonleague game on Saturday afternoon at Lincoln High School, here is his answer: “Absolutely.”
Timberline lost to Cleveland, 58-50, at the John McCrossin Memorial Basketball Classic but rallied from a game-long deficit that at one point reached as many as 18 points and cut the Eagles’ lead as close as five points late in the fourth quarter.
“You can’t spot any team 20 points,” Thomas said. “We came out really flat. I thought we had the good shots that we wanted early on, however, it took us a while to pick up our pressure.
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“Once we started playing together as a unit, we made them run. If it wasn’t for us missing a couple of shots down the stretch, it could have turned either way I thought.”
Though, it certainly didn’t look that way early on.
Timberline shot just 6 of 33 (18.2 percent) in the first half and was held scoreless until Jaelen Bush converted a basket with three minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Meanwhile, the Eagles quickly built a double-digit lead.
The Blazers were consistently beat up the floor by CJ Elleby, who scored 12 of his team-high 17 points in the first half, stamping two of his breakaways with dunks.
And on possessions when Elleby was contained, Fahad Sharif, who had 15 points, punished Timberline from the perimeter.
Sharif sunk a contested 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to give the Eagles a 34-16 lead.
“We didn’t want to come up here and get embarrassed,” Timberline guard Erik Stevenson said. “In the first half, we felt pretty embarrassed. … So, we came out, we had to pick it up.”
Tariq Romain opened the second half with a 3-pointer, and Stevenson added two buckets as part of a 12-4 run by the Blazers early in the third quarter.
Cleveland had enough answers to maintain a comfortable lead into the fourth, but Timberline’s Hunter Campau stole a loose ball and pulled up for a long 3-pointer to trim the lead to single digits, 49-41, with 4:52 to play.
“We had a gut check in the second half,” Thomas said. “I told the guys, we don’t have anything to lose, this is a nonleague game. We need to go out there and play as hard as we possibly can.”
Romain charged to the basket with less than four minutes to go to cut the deficit to six, but a technical foul called on the Blazers on the ensuing possession, and two missed shots, helped Cleveland build the lead back to 10 points.
“We wanted to pressure them,” Stevenson said. “They did exactly what we wanted them to, turned the ball over … but we just didn’t convert.”
Eli Morton, who scored 11 points, and Bush, who added 10, each had baskets within two minutes to pull Timberline within five, but the Blazers couldn’t complete the comeback.
Stevenson scored a game-high 19 points.
“(We) had some clutch shots, but not enough,” Stevenson said.
Despite the loss, Thomas’ question seemed answered.
“I think any team can get beat on any night,” Thomas said. “I think Cleveland is a well-coached program, but Timberline is up-and-coming. I think, once these guys understand what we’re fighting for, the sky is the limit for this team.”
So, is it more clear that the Blazers (3-1) have a program that can compete with the teams up north? The 3A Metro League includes projected state-tournament teams such as Cleveland, Nathan Hale, Rainier Beach and Garfield.
“First half, it was shaky,” Stevenson said. “But, now, I think we can play with them. We can play with the Metro League teams — any team in the state, I think.”
Cleveland; 18; 16; 13; 11--58
Timberline; 8; 8; 18; 16--50
C – Philip White 8, CJ Elleby 17, Fahad Sharif 15, Ezekiel Nsamba 4, Jahleel Breland 14
T – Tariq Romain 5, Eli Morton 11, Erik Stevenson 19, Jamin Faalogo 2, Jaelen Bush 10