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The moment was there for the Crater boys basketball team to solidify its hold on first place in the Southern Oregon Hybrid but South Medford simply wouldn't let it happen Tuesday night on the Panthers' home court.
The Comets were crisp right out of the gate but limped home thereafter as South Medford dialed up a lethal combination of dead-eye shooting and determined defense to upend Crater, 66-49.
"We guard well enough, we always have," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. "What really happened is we made some shots. Shooting takes care of a lot of woes, so that was a big thing."
"It's a good win for us," added Murphy, whose team hosts North Medford on Friday. "Crater was the league-leader coming in here and you know they're on a high — and they should be — and so we've got to meet that challenge and I really am proud of our kids, we stepped up and did that."
The tide began to turn after Crater (8-5, 2-1 SOH) took a 10-4 lead 21/2 minutes into the contest on 5-for-6 shooting. For the rest of the game, the Comets were only 16-for-52 (31 percent) to finish at 36 percent overall from the field.
In contrast, South Medford (8-4, 1-1) shook off a 2-for-7 start by knocking down 24 of their final 37 attempts to finish 59 percent from the field.
"We didn't make any shots," said Crater head coach John Parent, whose team entered tied with Roseburg atop the SOH. "Basketball comes down to shots made and shots missed, and they made theirs and we missed ours."
The loss snapped a three-game winning streak for the Comets, who had won eight of their last nine games after an 0-3 start to the season.
"We're fine," added Parent. "Hey, we're going to lose. We lost a game at South ... at South. We've got another great game in Roseburg on Friday so we just need to bounce back and take care of that."
South Medford's Bryson Carpenter provided an important spark off the bench, netting a team-high 16 points on 7-for-7 shooting from the field, while fellow junior CJ Keepes responded to his first varsity start by posting nine points, eight rebounds and three assists.
"CJ stepped right into that starting role and did a heckuva job," said Murphy. "He shot it well and got some rebounds. At times when we needed a big tip or a big rebound, CJ got that for us."
After Crater had taken a 17-12 lead in the early seconds of the second quarter, Keepes scored back-to-back buckets and Adrian Garcia came up with a steal and found fellow senior Jesse Mondry to give the Panthers their first lead at 18-17.
Matt Toreson answered a free throw by Evan Erskine with a 3-pointer to put South up 21-18 before RJ Morgan drew the Comets closer with a basket following his own inbounds pass off a Panther defender.
With momentum hanging in the balance, Carpenter kept a possession alive and finally capped it with a basket for South. Keepes followed with a pair of free throws and then Carpenter dished off to Tristian Lallo for another basket to put the Panthers in control at 27-20.
Carpenter, a 6-foot junior, later added a rebound basket and a 3-pointer off an assist by Mark Winans to help South take a 32-26 lead into halftime.
"It's just a mindset I have and I just came in and hit that first shot and everything after that came easy to me," Carpenter said of his production off the bench. "I was confident and just knocked it down when I got the chance."
Carpenter continued his hot streak in the third quarter with nine more points as the Panthers stretched their lead to as many as 15 points at 53-38. He entered the game averaging just under seven points per game, and is one of five Panthers scoring between 7-12 points per game.
"We have said all along that we're not a bunch of superstars, we're just a bunch of little guys that I think can play pretty well and be tough at times," said Murphy. "Bryson provided a great lift for us off the bench tonight. He's done that before and we need that. All good basketball teams have guys that can play off the bench, and that was a huge spark for us."
The ever-widening lead also limited the Comets from fully utilizing their best asset on Tuesday in 6-7 junior Connor Lane. The Crater center finished with 18 points and eight rebounds to lead the charge as South seemingly had no answer for him, but his impact dwindled as the Comets were forced into playing catchup and forced up some ill-advised shots.
"That kid's going to be special," said Parent. "He's only been playing this game for two years and he's as good of a kid as you'll ever meet. He works his butt off and the sky's the limit for him."
Senior Cody Dismukes, the Comets' leading scorer — and No. 2 in the SOH — at 13.8 points per game, scored eight of his 14 points in the third quarter and was made to earn every one of them. Dismukes, who had six rebounds, finished 3-for-9 from the field in the second half and 5-for-14 overall.
"I really thought we were able to get our people in and out and we mixed up our defenses a little bit and it caused them some problems," said Murphy. "We probably played about 26 minutes of good basketball. The first four minutes weren't very good and the last minute of the half was not very good but, other than that, we played pretty well."
Mondry chipped in 12 points for the Panthers, while Matt Toreson was steady with nine points and Garcia added eight points, six rebounds, two assists, two steals and two blocks. South also got five assists from Winans and six points and three assists off the bench from Brandon Robertson.
For Crater, Tanner Jaasko provided a lift with eight points off the bench, while Morgan had four points, four assists and three boards.
CRATER (49) — Lane 18, Dismukes 14, Jaasko 8, Morgan 4, Erskine 3, Reiter 2, Bennett 0, Stewart 0, Martin 0, Marineau 0, Orozco 0, Hintemeyer 0. Totals: 21-58 7-11 49.
SOUTH MEDFORD (66) — Carpenter 16, Mondry 12, Keepes 9, Toreson 9, Garcia 8, Robertson 6, Winans 2, Lallo 2, Orndoff 2, Massey 0, Monical 0. Totals: 26-44 11-16 66.
Crater 15 11 15 8 — 49
South Medford 12 20 21 13 — 66
3-point goals — Crater 0-10, South Medford 3-11 (Carpenter 2, Toreson 1).
JV score — South Medford 62, Crater 49.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry