LYNDEN - Emerging from the locker room, Lynden senior Matt Meyer looked about as exhausted as a 6-foot-5, 260-pound post could look.
Meyer, back after missing the previous game with a finger injury, was sorely needed to help Lynden claim a grinding 46-37 victory over Sehome in the semifinals of the Class 2A Northwest District Tournament on Monday, Feb. 11.
The defending state champion Lions (21-1) - top-ranked among the state's Class 2A boys' basketball teams - went more than 12 minutes of the second half without a field goal, yet survived a ferocious defensive effort by the Mariners (17-5) to clinch a spot in the regional round of the Class 2A State Tournament.
Was this a tougher physical challenge than most of the football games Meyer played?
"It's up there," Meyer said. "It's up there."
Meyer was also "up there" in a different sense, coming through with 10 points and 8 rebounds to help the Lions to a 34-19 rebound advantage, which ultimately limited the Mariners to only 36 shots from the field.
In fact, it was a good thing for the Lions that they held Sehome's season-long scoring leader, 6-4 senior Charlie Linneman, to 13 field-goal attempts, because he made 8, including a pair of 3-pointers, and finished with a game-high 20 points.
As a result, Lynden will play Burlington-Edison in the district championship game at 8 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15, at Mount Vernon High School. Sehome will play Cedarcrest in an elimination game at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, at 6 p.m. at Mount Vernon.
Lynden will be playing for more than a district title. If the Lions lose, they still are assured a regional spot, but they might also have to play Monday, Feb. 18, if the third-place finisher on Saturday has not met the Lions in the tournament. That game would be for seeding purposes, but it would make the difference between playing at Lynden in the regional and playing on the road. Only three Northwest District teams will go to the regional round.
Sehome's ever-hustling junior guard Evan Miksovsky - who went the entire 32 minutes at breakneck defensive speed and finished with only one turnover and a team-high eight rebounds - had no trouble explaining why the Lions earned their third victory over the Mariners this season - 68-34 in Lynden's opener, then 50-34 on Jan. 22 and now 46-37.
"They're just the No. 1 team, and they showed why they are the No. 1 team," Miksovsky said.
Indeed, the Lions made 15 of 20 free throws in the second half, including 4 for 4 by Meyer and 3 for 4 by both Dak Shagren and John Shine, plus 2 for 2 by both Zach Vis and sophomore reserve post Scooter Hastings.
Point guard Josh Kraght ended Lynden's streak without a basket when he barely beat the shot clock buzzer with a short line-drive shot with 1:40 remaining, giving the Lions a 43-32 advantage.
Sehome guard Noah Cyr-Moore answered with a 3-pointer five seconds later, giving Sehome hope. But after wild but fruitless scrambles by both teams, Shine made a free throw with 29 seconds left. Shine then made the fifth of Lynden's 11 steals, setting up two clinching free throws by Shagren with 12.6 ticks remaining for a 46-35 lead.
"Sehome played really, really hard," said Shine, who finished with team highs of 11 points, nine rebounds and five steals. "Matt Meyer also played so hard and battled through a lot of adversity. It really was a very physical game."
Lynden coach Brian Roper couldn't have agreed more.
"Sehome's effort was just what I thought it would be," Roper said. "They play as hard as anyone in the league. It was a game without much flow, but it was about finding a way to win."
Sehome coach A.J. LaBree - whose normally fast-breaking team came in with 16 games of more than 60 points - was proud of his team's effort against the Lions, who held a team under 40 points for the 14th time while extending their win streak to 14 games.
"We're getting better against them," he said. "It was 34, then 16, now 9. But Lynden is just so good defensively. They weren't fazed when we cut it to 6 points (at 34-28 early in the third quarter, after the Lions led by up to 33-19 in the first half)."
Would LaBree like another crack at Lynden?
"Only if it's for the state championship," he said with a grin.
Shagren finished with eight points, five rebounds, three steals and a game-high four assists, plus made only one turnover in 29 minutes.
Sehome shot 13 for 36 from the field and 8 for 10 from the line, but Lynden's defensive poise - the Lions were whistled for only 9 fouls compared to Sehome's 18 - turned out to make the difference.
LYNDEN 46, SEHOME 37
Sehome 8 11 6 12 - 37
Lynden 15 10 9 12 - 46
Sehome: Charlie Linneman 20, Evan Miksovsky 6, Noah Cyr-Moore 5, Gabe Sanchez 4, Willy Lallas 2, Jake Manson, Mo Williams. Team totals: 13-36 8-10 37.
Lynden: John Shine 11, Matt Meyer 10, Dak Shagren 8, Zach Vis 5, Josh Kraght 5, Scooter Hastings 4, Jaremy Martin 3. Team totals: 12-40 19-27 46.
3-ptg: Sehome 3 (Linneman 2); Lynden 3 (Shine 2). Rebounds: Lynden 34 (Shine 9, Meyer 8); Sehome 19 (Miksovsky 8). Assists: Lynden 7 (Shagren 4); Sehome 6 (Linemann 2, Cyr-Moore 2). Fouls: Sehome 18, Lynden 9. Turnovers: Sehome 14, Lynden 11.
Lynden's opponent in the district championship game corrected on Feb. 12 to Burlington-Edison.