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Jacob Cofie, Eastside Catholic (WA) star and Virginia commit, puts on show at Hardwood Invite but still sees ways to improve

“We want to win a state championship, so I feel like this is a great learning experience for us”

As the hometown Roosevelt Roughriders celebrated at midcourt following their 70-68 victory over Eastside Catholic in The Hardwood Invite championship game Wednesday night at Parkrose High School in Portland, the Crusaders gathered in the northeast corner of the gym. 

Some sat on their bench watching the celebration. Others stood around, waiting to head to the locker room.

Then there was senior Jacob Cofie, gathered with coach Brent Merritt and several others clad in Crusaders gear, dissecting what happened during the game and how the team could learn from the loss as it seeks to improve upon its sixth-place finish at last year’s Washington Class 3A state tournament. 

On the surface, there wasn’t much to fault in the Virginia signee’s performance. He scored a game-high 26 points, including a go-ahead 3-pointer with 57.9 seconds left as Eastside Catholic (7-1) erased an 11-point second-quarter deficit to lead 68-66.

He had seven rebounds, five assists and two blocked shots while going 11 of 15 from the field despite feeling the effects of a sprained left ankle from the Crusaders’ tournament-opening 78-58 victory over Tigard.

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But Cofie also knows there was much to Wednesday’s game to improve upon.

“This was a huge learning curve for us because we don’t want to feel this later in the season,” Cofie said. “We have big aspirations. We want to win a state championship, so I feel like this is a great learning experience for us.”

At times during the game, Cofie’s face betrayed his frustration as the Crusaders fell behind 33-22 on Terrence Hill Jr.’s three-point play 2:57 before halftime, then trailed 52-42 after Demir Johnson’s putback with three minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“I feel like when times get tough, to keep pushing,” he said. “I feel like I can hold the team accountable more and just be more of a leader out there and get us started from the jump — not pull it out late in the fourth quarter, but get the momentum going in the first quarter.”

Cofie drew Roosevelt’s attention from the opening tip, with an array of defenders tasked with battling with the 6-foot-10 senior in the post, trying to deny entry passes with a second (or even third) Roughrider swooping in to contest lobs to the rim.

“We were just playing team defense,” said junior Owen Nathan, whose short jumper with 4.1 seconds left proved to be the game-winner. “We couldn’t guard him one-on-one, so we had backside help the whole game, talking the whole game, just playing together and doing everything we could to stop him.”

It’s nothing the Crusaders haven’t seen from opponents the past couple of seasons.

“He gets doubled every game in the post,” Merritt said. “So, that part, we’re used to. That’s nothing new for us, and his passing is probably one of the best parts of his game. We just have to do a better job of executing and making better plays.”

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For example, on Eastside Catholic’s final possession after Hill Jr. tied the score at 68-68 with 41.7 seconds left, with the Roughriders denying Cofie the ball, it left Kodi Greene wide open for a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.

Even though Greene’s shot rimmed out, “I feel like Jacob is fine with that,” Merritt said. “He wants other guys to shoot so he can get it off the rebound. He’s telling me, ‘Hey, let this guy shoot, I’ll go get it off the glass.’”

It’s all part of the maturation process for Cofie, a four-star recruit ranked No. 61 on the ESPN Top 100 who turned down offers from nearby Washington as well as Ohio State and USC to sign with the Cavaliers.

“It was hard,” Cofie said of his decision. “I love UW. They treated me really well. But I felt Virginia was home for me 100%. They wanted me the most. It’s the best opportunity for me to take my game to the next level.”

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As he and the Crusaders look ahead to a grueling Metro League slate and winning the program’s first state championship — it has won seven trophies since 2014 but reached the final only once — Cofie said the key will be for the Crusaders to “settle down and just learn the little parts of the game.

“I felt like we could have dragged that last shot out. Even though it was a great shot, and I like my teammate for shooting it confident, but I feel just little stuff like that and having confidence in each other and being able down the line to make the right play ... I feel like we’ll learn from that, and now we’ll be a better team from this loss.”

Photos by Taylor Balkom

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