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It wasn't meant as a slight to North Medford senior Brian Bush, but the Crater boys basketball team was willing to see him take a main offensive role for the Black Tornado during Tuesday night's Southern Oregon Hybrid matchup.
Averaging 4.8 points per game, Bush had reached double figures only once prior to the third meeting between the Comets and Tornado and entered shooting 36 percent from the field (31-for-85).
The strategy to focus its defense elsewhere seemed logical, at least until the thrilling contest was complete.
In a breakout performance, the 6-foot-1 guard knocked down four 3-pointers in the first quarter and tied the school record with seven 3-pointers overall in helping North Medford to a hard-fought 76-72 overtime win over the visiting Comets.
"I think people just don't understand how well he can shoot it because he hasn't been showing that so far, but we've seen it," said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. "In the summertime, he went for 21 in one half so we've seen that it's possible, it was just nice to see him do that tonight."
Bush's seven 3-pointers tied the record set in 2003 by Beau Hovland against Ashland. In North Medford's 18 games entering Tuesday, Bush had only eclipsed seven points on two occasions.
But with Crater set on denying standout junior Tristen Holmes with pressure by Dean Orozco and company, that often left Bush with the ball in his hands and time to shoot for the Black Tornado (14-5, 7-2 SOH).
"I wanna give it to my team for getting me open shots and making it easy on me, so props to them for that," said Bush. "They just kept giving me open shots and I just kept taking them and it worked out for us. Their defense on Tristen was amazing tonight but unfortunately for them it left me open so I'm not complaining about it."
Bush finished 7-for-12 from 3-point range and 8-for-14 overall for 23 points. He also had six assists, three steals, three rebounds and two blocked shots against Crater (6-13, 2-7).
"I've always had confidence that it could happen and I've kinda been expecting it," added the senior. "Tonight was the night, I guess."
Even with his heroics weren't enough to shake a pesky Comet team that matched the Tornado step for step. North Medford had the same five-point lead entering the fourth quarter it did at halftime, only to see the Comets rally to send the game into overtime tied at 64-all.
In overtime, the free-throw line provided separation for the Black Tornado. It was 8-for-10 from the foul line while Crater went 6-for-12, including a pair of front-end misses on one-and-one attempts and an 0-for-2 session when North led 72-70 with 22.1 seconds left.
Crater had a shot at a go-ahead 3-pointer by Tanner Jaasko go off the rim with 9.1 seconds to play
Comets junior Gunnar Asher scored 22 points and added four assists before being lost to an ankle injury midway through the fourth quarter. Sophomore Jacob Hintemeyer came off the bench for 22 points, 15 rebounds, four assists and two blocks while senior Connor Lane had 13 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks.
"I'd love to get a win for a fun game to watch but we don't get that win," said Crater coach Glenn Johannes. "It's still a loss and we've gotta regroup and get ready for Grants Pass on Friday."
"We're excited with the effort that was shown and how we were able to execute things," added the first-year Comets coach. "We were getting good chemistry passing the ball around and finding easy buckets and then playing really nose-to-nose, good defense."
Jacob Gustafson's inside basket off a feed from Hintemeyer allowed the Comets to tie North Medford at 64-all with just under two minutes left in regulation. After that, each team had a pair of possessions to take the lead but neither could convert against tight pressure.
The Tornado led by as many as five points midway through the four-minute overtime thanks to a basket by Aaron Browne-Moore that was set up by Julian Gray and then another swooping drive by Gray.
Undaunted, Crater chipped away with a basket by Hintemeyer and, after two free throws by Race Reiter, trailed only 71-70 with 53.8 seconds to play. After Edmund Polataivao made one free throw for North, Jaasko missed on a 3-pointer, but Orozco got the ball back with a backcourt steal.
Reiter came up empty on his next trip to the foul line, opening the door for Browne-Moore to gain separation for his team with both ends of a one-and-one.
After Orozco's two free throws cut Crater's deficit to 74-72, Gray stepped over the end line when trying to inbound the ball to give the ball back to the Comets with 13.5 seconds left. Crater immediately found Jaasko in the corner for a 3-pointer, but it hit the front iron and was tracked down by Browne-Moore, who added two more free throws to seal the victory.
"Aaron was clutch at the line," said Plankenhorn. "As big as he was on other stuff, the line was the biggest part making four in row down the stretch to keep us spaced out where we could play normal defense and not have to worry about the 3-ball."
Browne-Moore finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds while Holmes battled for 14 points to go with five rebounds and Gray had nine points and seven assists as North swept the three-game series.
"Definitely going into the game we believed that we'd have a little more separation, of course," said Browne-Moore, "but once we got in there we got a little ahead of ourselves and it was tight throughout the whole thing."
"It definitely took some inspiration from inside the team to get this one," he added. "It also shows that in a situation like that we can execute and show off what talents we really do have as a team."
Johannes said after the game that it was too early to tell the extent of the injury to Asher, who returned in recent weeks from a similar injury.
"It hurt us tremendously," the coach said of playing without the 6-2 guard. "It takes away a shooter that we're used to having and it takes away some defense that we were having early on, too. He played great and we're hoping that it's just a short-term injury and nothing long-term."
CRATER (72) — Asher 22, Hintemeyer 22, Lane 13, Gustafson 6, Reiter 4, Jaasko 3, Orozco 2. Totals: 26-69 15-26 72.
NORTH MEDFORD (76) — Bush 23, Browne-Moore 14, Holmes 14, Gray 9, Polataivao 5, Barry 5, Wilkins 4, Carrasco 2, Ecker 0. Totals: 25-66 18-26 76.
Crater 17 15 18 14 8 — 72
North Medford 16 21 18 9 12 — 76
3-point goals — Crater 5-22 (Asher 3, Hintemeyer 1, Jaasko 1), North Medford 8-18 (Bush 7, Gray 1. Fouled out — Barry, Polataivao, Reiter. Technical foul — Crater coach Johannes.
JV score — North Medford 69, Crater 54.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry