By DEREK WILEY
Of the Keizertimes
ALBANY—Behind a fast start and strong finish, McNary opened Greater Valley Conference play with a 70-62 victory over West Albany on Friday, Dec. 9.
“Any league win is tough,” Celtics head coach Ryan Kirch said. “On the road is tough. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or when you’re playing them. I think what we can take from this is when you get to the playoffs, every game is going to come down to the final three minutes and your ability to finish and your ability to be mentality tough. We’re going to focus on the positives from that and enjoy tonight.”
McNary appeared it would coast in its league opener as senior Cade Goff knocked down a 3-pointer in the first 15 seconds to begin a 13-0 run before the Bulldogs were even able to get on the scoreboard with a 3 of their own with 2:05 remaining in the first quarter.
Goff also started the second quarter with a 3-pointer to stretch the Celtics lead to 21-10 before West Albany began heating up from behind the arc to stay within striking distance.
McNary led 33-24 with 2:19 remaining in the first half but the Bulldogs closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run to get within 33-32 at intermission.
Alex Martin barely played in the first half after picking up two quick fouls in the first quarter and his third less than a minute into the second. In his absence, Lucas Garvey had five points off the bench.
West Albany stayed hot in the third quarter and grabbed its first lead, 35-33, on a 3-pointer to begin the second half. Adam Harvey answered with a 3-pointer to give the lead right back to the Celtics but the Bulldogs scored seven straight to take control, 42-36.
“We probably played as poorly as we could play,” Kirch said. “Our defense wasn’t very good. I thought we rushed shots a little bit. We had too many turnovers. The way the game was called, we didn’t adjust.”
McNary needed its bench to get back on top.
Back-to-back baskets by Garvey, including a 3-pointer, got the Celtics within 44-43. After West Albany added two free throws, a Chandler Cavell layup and free throw tied the game at 46-46. Goff then gave McNary a 48-46 lead with 1:45 remaining in the third quarter.
“I thought the ball was stagnant a little bit, particularly in the second and third quarter,” Kirch said. “We had to make some adjustments. I just didn’t think we were as strong with the ball as we needed to be in the half court.”
After the Bulldogs went back on top, 56-53, with 5:09 left to play, Cavell knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the game.
Matthew Ismay then scored in the paint to put the Celtics ahead 58-56.
West Albany quickly tied the game once again but a 3-point play by Martin with 3:21 remaining gave McNary the lead for good.
“I’m pretty hyped,” said Harvey, who led McNary with 16 points. “We played good as a team. We had a sluggish part but we came back firing. We kept our composure and stayed strong.”
The Celtics went 5-for-6 from the free throw line in the final 1:25 to put away the Bulldogs.
Garvey and Goff each finished with 14 points. Ismay added 12 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
“In the long run, I think this was good for us,” Kirch said. “The final three minutes is winning time. As terrible as the first 29 minutes were, I thought our mental toughness to be able to finish at the end of the game was a real positive thing.The last couple of years we’ve lost one game each year that we probably shouldn’t have and the last couple of years that might have been this game. I thought our seniors did a nice job of coming together, leading vocally but also just going out and getting it done.”
McNary improved to 2-0 in the GVC on Tuesday, Dec. 13 by dominating North Salem on the road 74-36.
Harvey led the Celtics with 14 points and five rebounds.
Cavell had 14 points and Easton Neitzel added 11.
Martin and Goff each had nine.
The Celtics return home Friday, Dec. 16 to play Sprague at 7:15 p.m.