NWOC BOYS BASKETBALL: La Salle 64, Hillsboro 55

An extra day’s layoff led to a frustratingly flat performance that saw the Hillsboro Spartans ring in the new year with a costly home loss.

La Salle used a 16-3 run in the second quarter to open a double-digit lead on the way to a 64-55 victory at Hillsboro, sending the Spartans (0-2 NWOC, 3-7 overall) to their second straight Northwest Oregon Conference loss.

The Spartans struggled to score all night, while the La Salle Falcons (2-1, 3-7) seemingly could not miss, connecting on over half of their shots in each quarter on the way to a scintillating 70% (23-33) for the game. By contrast, Hilhi shot below 33% in each quarter and finished the game shooting a dismal 28% from the field.

Yet, somehow, despite falling behind by 19 points early in the fourth quarter, the Spartans kept things interesting, rallying to within seven on a steal and fast break layup by Josh Jones that made it 57-50 La Salle with 2:39 to play. The Falcons ran over a minute off the clock before the Falcons’ Ange Toku caught a Hilhi defender looking the other way and sneaked underneath the basket, drawing a foul before hitting two free throws to put the Falcons back up by nine as they were able to close out the road win.

Toku, a junior forward listed at 5-11, was a pain all night for the Spartans, finishing with 16 points, most of which came right near the rim as Hilhi struggled all game to defend the paint. While Toku slipped inside for multiple layups, talented 6-7 center Matthew Berger treated every midrange jumper like a lay-up, hitting 7-of-10 from the field mostly from 12-to-15 feet, rarely grazing the rim.

A 21-10 second quarter proved to be the Spartans’ undoing as they fell behind 34-17 after a close first quarter. As Hilhi sparked to life offensively in the third period, scoring on six of seven possessions during one stretch, La Salle kept hitting key shots to keep the Sparts at arm’s length. Junior guard Stew Robertson nailed a pair of threes and Toku also hit a trey as the Falcons were able to maintain a double-digit lead until the final 3:30.

Berger finished with 15 points, ten rebounds and four assists. Robertson added 11 points and junior forward Jason Burns finished with 10. Six different Falcons players had at least two assists as La Salle totaled an impressive 17 assists on 23 made baskets.

What kept Hilhi in the ballgame was rebounding, particularly on the offensive glass where the Spartans had a 16-1 advantage. Unfortunately, Hilhi only cashed in on 11 points as the length of the Falcons frontcourt posed problems for Spartan posts RJ Nelson and Tahj Barr-Colford, who combined to go 4-for-17 from the field.

Jones led three Spartans in double figures with 16 points, adding five rebounds and four steals. Chase Hildner contributed 14 points and Nelson finished with 13 points and five rebounds. Thanks to Toku, the Falcons bench outscored Hilhi 23-4.

It wasn’t just poor defense on Hillsboro’s part as the Falcons hit every kind of shot, connecting on 5-of-7 from three-point range and 13-for-16 at the free throw line. The Spartans were just 5-for-25 from downtown and hit 13 straight free throws in the final ten minutes of the game to help make the score respectable, finishing the contest 20-for-28 at the stripe.

The Spartans will go for their first NWOC win this Friday at Milwaukie, the first of three straight road games. Next Tuesday, Hillsboro heads to Liberty for a doubleheader against the Falcons. KUIK will broadcast the boys game live with pregame coverage starting at 7:05 p.m.