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The Canby Cougars boys basketball team (14-12, 5-7 Three Rivers League), led by an experienced and tight-knit cadre of talented seniors with complementary skill sets, has made a habit all season of surprising teams that seemed to have them outmatched on paper.
And in a first-round OSAA state playoff game Tuesday night, they appeared on track to do just that against higher-seeded Lincoln High School (19-7, 12-4 Portland Interscholastic League) on their home floor, leading the Cardinals by as much as 15 before the half and 38-29 going into the fourth period.
The Cougars started out the game blitzing the much-lauded Lincoln offense, the second-most prolific in the state at 73.1 points per game, and keeping them under wraps.
In the first quarter, the Canby D held Lincoln to five points and 2-11 shooting, and the Cougars continued to pile on in the next quarter, racing out to a 20-5 advantage midway through the period.
“I thought we executed our game plan,” Canby head coach Craig Evans told the Current. “We knew their offense, we knew what they were going to try do do against us, and we executed what we did in practice.”
Lincoln was clearly flummoxed by the stingy Cougar defense, which had been forged in the crucible of the brutally of facing tough TRL teams all year. The Cardinals shot only 21% in the first half and failed to sink a single 3.
Cardinal star Malachi Seely-Roberts was held to just two points in the first half. Despite better shooting in the third quarter from the Cardinals, Canby still led by nine at the end of three.
Alas, it was not in the cards for the Cougs. After being held to only 29 points in the first three frames, the Lincoln offense exploded for 28 points to stun the visiting Cougars and pull off the dramatic, come-from-behind victory.
Both Malachi Seely-Roberts and his twin brother Moroni, who grew up in Canby and were standouts in the youth sports circuit, woke up in the final frame to score a combined 18 points. Malachi himself brought the Cardinals and their crowd back into the game early into the fourth with a personal 9-0 run.
Seely-Roberts hit a layup and nailed a triple before stealing the inbounds pass and hoisting another 3 that banked in as he hit the ground from a Cougar foul.
The crowd erupted, and his mother Heather Seely-Roberts, the first female head basketball coach at the 6A boys level and herself the former Canby girls head coach, jumped for joy as the game was suddenly tied.
Canby’s defense finally wilted to the dynamic Cardinal offense as Lincoln outscored the Cougars 28-14 in the quarter. Down by six with one 90 seconds remaining, Payton Meyers nailed back-to-back threes to keep the Cougars within two, but they got no closer.
Meyers, who had one of his usual dynamic dunks in the third and led both teams with 20 points, was left wanting more.
“I played my heart out I gave it everything I had,” Meyers told the Current, “and we were just short. Sucks that it had to happen that way, but I’m happy with the way my guys fought.”
The Cards win to advance to a showdown with No. 3 Cleveland in the second round Thursday night. Along with Meyers’ 20, Kellan Oakes added 10 and Alex Evans chipped in eight in their final outings in a Canby basketball jersey.
Malachi and Moroni Seely-Roberts led Lincoln with 18 and 17 points, respectively.
For the Cougars, it was a disappointing end to a resurgent 2022 campaign, in which Canby proved it could go toe-to-toe with the state’s top 6A teams — even as coaches prepare for the drop down to 5A next season.
“I think the program is at a great spot,” Evans said. “We’ll drop down to 5A and we’re going to compete at that level, and these guys have a great winning mentality now.”
With the Cougs needing to rebuild after graduating 10 seniors — including their entire starting lineup and all seven players that saw game action on Tuesday — in the spring, the reset could be coming at a great time.
Both star seniors in Evans and Meyers reminisced on the Cougars’ final 6A game, as well their time with the Cougars, after the game.
“The seniors all were best friends off the court,” Evans, who played varsity all four years at Canby, said. “We would eat lunch in coach’s room every day, even on non-game days. We all just wanted to win and change the culture around.”
“The best choice I’ve ever made was to come here,” said Meyers, who transferred to Canby from North Marion this year. “I love all my teammates and coaches. [They] have all been so good to me and treated me like family from day one. I wish I could have one more year with these guys.”
Both Meyers and Evans, along with seniors Kellan Oakes, Dom Pepper, Jacob Strand, Mikey Gibson and Matt Soles, all played in their final game on Tuesday.
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