A funny thing happened to Terry Rasmussen on his way toward retirement as a basketball coach.
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South Medford would have been hard-pressed to even script a better start than the eighth-ranked Panthers had Thursday night against McMinnville in their Class 6A state playoff opener.
Sharing the ball and knocking down shots in pure fashion, South Medford went 5-for-5 from the field in the opening minutes to take a 12-0 lead on the visiting Grizzlies and never looked back to claim a 65-45 boys basketball victory.
"We really came out with a great effort," said Panthers head coach Dennis Murphy. "That's probably as good of a start as we've had, and there's no better time to have it than right now."
"Those first five possessions," added the coach, "we moved the ball around and I'm not certain we even hit the iron, they just went swish, swish, swish, swish. That was just good basketball, and that's what it's all about."
Four different players scored for the Panthers during the opening stretch, which was capped by the first of four 3-pointers by senior Jack Singler to jump-start a big night for the 6-foot-3 standout. Singler amassed 20 points, 14 rebounds, six assists, two steals and one blocked shot to spark South Medford.
"It's playoff time and you've just got to leave it all out on the floor now," said Singler. "I'm playing for my teammates and I love every single one of them. It's just fun to play another game with them."
That next game will come Saturday when the Panthers (22-3) play host to North Salem, which was an 85-73 winner over Redmond in the first round of the playoffs on Wednesday. The Central Valley Conference champion Vikings (18-8) have won nine straight entering Saturday's game, which will determine who advances to the Class 6A state tournament.
"It's a great step for us but we know that we've got a very, very, very good team in North Salem coming down here Saturday," said Murphy. "They've got athletes and they fly up and down the floor."
Making matters even more interesting is that, because McMinnville was leery of busing to Medford on Wednesday due to concerns of foul weather, the turnaround for South Medford will be one day quicker than everyone else.
"There's no question we're at a disadvantage because we've only got one day to prep instead of two and that doesn't make it easy, especially when you've got to prep for a team as good as these guys," added Murphy. "We've got our work cut out for us but we're at home and we like that because we love our fan support. As good as we played tonight, I think we've got to play better on Saturday."
McMinnville head coach Willie Graham said his team prepared for a potential fast start by the Panthers but that didn't seem to matter much on Thursday.
"We tried to prepare for that the last three or four days but they just kinda came and steam-rolled us there at the start," said Graham, whose team was fifth in the Pacific Conference.
South Medford built a 25-6 lead early in the second quarter and carried a 29-11 cushion into intermission. McMinnville (13-12) managed to shoot just 4-for-22 from the field in the first half, partly due to the Panthers' steady defense and partly due to forcing some tough shots.
"I think you get down and some of those things start setting in," said Graham. "You start taking some of those tough shots and it's a little risk-reward, and when it doesn't work out it can be kinda tough and that happened to us tonight."
The Panthers used good patience and teamwork to finish 44 percent from the field (21-for-48) and were 17-for-24 from the foul line to keep the Grizzlies at bay in the second half.
"We knew they were going to battle back and we just kept playing hard defense and made our shots and it turned out good for us," said Singler. "Everyone stepped up and that's what we need every single night."
Jack Delaney scored 18 points and had three assists and two steals and Matt Retzlaff added 12 points, eight rebounds and five assists to help propel the Panthers. Adrian Garcia came up with eight points, four rebounds and four assists and Jesse Mondry pulled down seven rebounds to go with five points.
Still, it was undoubtedly Singler's night to shine.
"I told Jack Singler after the game that's by far the best basketball game I've seen him play as a high school kid," said Murphy. "He was terrific and the stats will show that. He just did a great job of rebounding the ball and he knocked shots down and he was unselfish."
"We've needed that out of him," added the coach, "and what's really happened is, I just think Jack has matured and gained confidence. He surely makes us a better basketball team when he plays like that."
McMinnville senior Turner Grimm had 19 points and seven rebounds to lead his team, while junior point guard Spencer Payne added 10 points and three assists.
McMINNVILLE (45) — Grimm 19, Payne 10, Vicknair 7, Parker 5, Gubrud 4, Geelan 0, Autencio 0, Ramsey 0, Coste 0, Anderson 0. Totals: 18-57 6-9 45.
SOUTH MEDFORD (65) — Singler 20, Delaney 18, Retzlaff 12, Garcia 8, Mondry 5, Sarsona 2, McCoy 0, Curtius 0, Cooney 0, Johnson 0, Davis 0, Toreson 0. Totals: 21-48 17-24 65.
McMinnville 6 5 21 13 — 45
South Medford 18 11 19 17 — 65
3-point goals — McMinnville 3-20 (Payne 2, Grimm 1), South Medford 6-14 (Singler 4, Delaney 2). Fouled out — Gubrud, Payne.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry