Patience and persistence are paying off for a young Auburn boys basketball team learning how to pull out close wins.
That was evident Friday night when the Trojans stumbled out of the gate, regained their step and eventually found their shooting touch to survive a hard-fought game against their neighbors from the south.
Auburn went on a 17-6 run in the final five minutes to take a 62-53 North Puget Sound League Olympic Division road win against Auburn Riverside.
“We always fight through adversity, and we never give up,” said 6-foot-5 senior forward Isaiah Dunn, who led the Trojans with 17 points and 14 rebounds. “We’re always looking to push the ball and looking to win all the time.
“We’re a pretty good shooting team,” he added. “We’ve been off the last couple of games, but we can do other things. We have all types of players. We’re pretty deep.”
The Trojans (11-3 division, 16-4 overall) secured the Olympic No. 2 spot for next Saturday’s league playoffs, where they will play Mount Rainier (14-6), the NPSL Cascade No. 2 qualifier, for the Nos. 3 and 4 seeds to the West Central/Southwest District tournament. Tipoff is 4 p.m. at Enumclaw High School.
Auburn beat Mount Rainier 63-59 back on Jan. 2.
The Trojans also earned a home district playoff game on Feb. 7.
Auburn Riverside finished its season 3-11 and 5-15.
Facing a stout zone defense, Auburn misfired early and often. It wasn’t until more than five minutes went by when the Trojans scored their first points, a Dae’Kwon Watson 3-pointer.
The Ravens had a seven-point lead early in the second quarter before the Trojans pulled even and seized the lead 32-30 on Dunn’s putback basket at the halftime horn.
The game remained tight in the third quarter, which ended on freshman Kaden Lewis’ 30-footer that beat the buzzer for a 43-40 Auburn lead after 24 minutes of play.
Lewis’ trey from the wing put Auburn in front for good at 48-47, with 5:06 left on the clock.
Jayden Taylor’s jumper got the Ravens to within 53-51, but Amar Rivers, a sophomore, drained a deep trey and freshman Maleek Arington sank a pair of free throws.
With Auburn up 58-53, Rivers hit the first of two free throws, but Dunn grabbed his teammate’s miss on the second attempt and scored to seal the win.
The Trojans had trouble producing points against the Ravens’ zone but kept at it.
“We talked about staying the course and not getting impatient,” said Auburn coach Ryan Hansen. “Early on we were tentative against the zone. … We did a better job as the game went on in attacking gaps, drawing defenders and making the extra pass.
“We’ve got some kids who can really shoot the ball,” Hansen said. “We got some good rhythm shots that we were able to knock down.”
Watson buried five 3-pointers, finishing with 15 points and the soreness that comes from taking a hard fall to the floor midway in the third quarter. Lewis had 10 points and Rivers scored nine.
Dunn, the primary target for defenses, struggled underneath but managed to make some timely shots and avoid foul trouble. Dunn’s work also put three of his defenders in foul trouble.
“I was proud of him,” Hansen said of the Trojans’ big man. “He really stuck with it. He never really got too frustrated.”
Dunn added: “I just keep my head up and I know that sooner than later, if you keep working harder than everyone else, you’re going to come up victorious.”
Julius Cain scored 16 points, nine of which came in the first quarter, for the Ravens. Cole Lenihan had 11 points, and Dan Ramirez, the lone senior playing in his last game for the Ravens, finished with nine points.
“I like the fact we didn’t quit. We battled,” said Ravens coach Kevin Olson. “We knew we couldn’t make the playoffs, but we still gave a good game. We played well at the start … we just didn’t get it done.”
Olson returns a young bunch for next season.