South Medford's boys basketball team needed a lift coming off a tough loss to its cross-town rival and senior Ben Orndoff provided that early and often Tuesday.
In a key matchup for leverage in the Southern Oregon Hybrid standings, Orndoff scored 14 of his career-high 24 points in the first half to spur his Panthers to a 61-48 victory over Grants Pass at South Medford High.
The 6-foot-2 wing was 9-for-12 from the field and 4-for-5 from the foul line in an aggressive effort that began with the opening tip and didn't wane. Orndoff also had four assists and two rebounds to go with a solid defensive effort against GP standout Brian Luther.
"Every game I come out with the same mentality to just play my hardest," said Orndoff, who was averaging 11.3 points entering Tuesday's game. "It's all an effort thing for me, really. It's really about running the floor and getting to the bucket for me, and I was able to do that tonight."
The breakout performance couldn't have come at a better time for the Panthers, who entered the game tied for second in the SOH standings with Grants Pass but now will open the second of three league cycles next Tuesday with a share of first place. North Medford's loss at Roseburg on Tuesday means the Black Tornado and Panthers (10-6) sit atop the standings at 3-1, with the Cavemen (11-3) one game back at 2-2.
"We're not in a bad spot," said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy, "but this thing is wide open, we all know that. You've got to show up and play every night because everybody plays tough at home."
That was the expectation of Grants Pass head coach Jeff Huston heading into the contest and the Panthers did not disappoint. South Medford shot 50 percent from the field (22-for-44) and limited its turnovers to one in the first half and nine overall to gradually pull away from the Cavemen.
"Anytime you step in on the road anywhere in our league it's gonna be a battle and a close game," said Huston, whose team trailed 27-23 at halftime. "South plays great at home and they execute their stuff. It's one of those league games where you want to steal one on the road, we just didn't."
"The bottom line is we didn't make free throws and they did," added Huston, "and they executed down the stretch. It comes down to who puts the ball in the hoop the most and we just didn't do that tonight."
Grants Pass was 8-for-19 from the field in the first half but slipped considerably in the second to finish 15-for-47 overall (32 percent). Neither team was particularly good from the foul line, with the Cavemen going 14-for-25 and the Panthers 11-for-17, but South Medford converted when it mattered most by knocking down 8 of 10 foul shots in the fourth quarter to go with 5-for-6 shooting from the field.
"I've said forever that shooting takes care of a lot of woes and I really thought we shot better tonight," said Murphy.
The Panthers also benefitted from contributions up and down the lineup, most notably from junior point guard Brayden Massey and sophomore post Hunter Bradford. Massey finished with five points, five assists, six rebounds and three steals, while Bradford totaled five points, six rebounds and three blocks in his first start at South Medford.
"Hunter Bradford played well," said Murphy. "I thought he really pounded around the basket well and got some tough rebounds and made it tough for Micah Johnson."
Senior wing Mark Winans added seven points, four assists and three rebounds for the Panthers, who got five points apiece off the bench from Bryson Carpenter and Brandon Lupton and an important putback to end the third quarter by Trenton Monical that gave South a 43-35 advantage.
Monical finished with four boards, while the Panthers also got four key points in the paint from both Cameron English and C.J. Keepes.
"We got something from everybody," said Murphy. "Some kids off the bench really helped us."
That ability to share the wealth is a plus for the Panthers, Orndoff said. South Medford has had four different players finish as the team's leading scorer this season and another who was just two points off.
"Any game it can be someone who does that and that's what we all look for, to feed off someone who's having a good game," said Orndoff, whose previous high was 18 points against Summit and Sheldon. "That's what we were able to do tonight. Hopefully we can continue that throughout the season."
J.C. McKinley knocked down three of his team's four 3-pointers to finish with 12 points and three rebounds to pace the Cavemen, who got 11 points and nine rebounds from Johnson and nine points and three steals from Luther. Kirkland Meadows added seven points while Drake Brennan pulled down seven boards to go with a 5-for-6 showing from the foul line.
Grants Pass pulled within 30-29 early in the third quarter but English and Bradford sparked a 6-2 run for South, which later used a 3-pointer by Lupton and Monical's putback to secure momentum.
"Both teams know each other really well," said Huston. "In our league it comes down to who makes those plays and who has that mental toughness down in the fourth quarter, especially, and the third and fourth really got us."
GRANTS PASS (48) — McKinley 12, Johnson 11, Luther 9, Meadows 7, Brennan 5, Ryan 4, Cotton 0, Brooks 0, Musser 0. Totals: 15-47 14-25 48.
SOUTH MEDFORD (61) — Orndoff 24, Winans 7, Massey 5, Bradford 5, Carpenter 5, Lupton 5, Keepes 4, English 4, Monical 2, Lallo 0, Contreras 0. Totals: 22-44 11-17 61.
Grants Pass 15 8 12 13 — 48
South Medford 16 11 16 18 — 61
3-point goals — Grants Pass 4-13 (McKinley 3, Meadows 1), South Medford 6-14 (Orndoff 2, Massey 1, Winans 1, Carpenter 1, Lupton 1). Technical foul — Keepes.
JV score — Grants Pass 58, South Medford 48.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry