South Medford boys basketball coach Dennis Murphy has long talked about what it means to play "Panther basketball."
Anyone in the South Medford High gym got an excellent look at exactly what that is Saturday night as the 10th-ranked Panthers secured a trip to the Class 6A state tournament with a 69-55 second-round win over visiting Southridge.
From sharing the basketball to being efficient on offense and stingy on defense through hustle and determination, South Medford put a spotlight on how the team has now been able to advance to the final state tournament site in 12 of the past 13 seasons.
"We jumped out quick and guarded the heck out of them and offensively, boy, were we good," Murphy said after his team's 11th straight victory. "We ran everything we wanted to and got great shots. I'm awfully proud of them because they played well."
"It was a great win for us and great momentum going (to the Moda Center)," he added. "We really believe in ourselves and are playing good basketball right now."
To use the term "good" for Saturday's effort is definitely an understatement. South Medford (20-6) scored on six of its first seven shots — using four different players — and finished 25-for-42 (60 percent) from the field overall.
"We started out with strong defense and that translated to offensive efficiency for us and really got us going," said Panthers senior Ben Orndoff, who finished with 19 points, five rebounds and three assists. "Throughout the game we never took a step down and just kept playing hard the whole game. What's great about our team is we're able to have a lot of different guys come off the bench and contribute."
South Medford senior Mark Winans also finished in double figures with 15 points to go with four rebounds and three assists, while junior Brayden Massey added eight points and four assists and sophomore Hunter Bradford had eight points and four rebounds.
Panthers junior Cameron English (seven points, four rebounds) and senior C.J. Keepes (four points, three rebounds, two assists) were effective against the Metro League's Skyhawks, while senior Trenton Monical came off the bench to grab five boards and Brandon Lupton added six points.
"We've always been known as a team," said Winans. "We don't have very many individual players who are going to go out and win by themselves and this was just another example that we play team basketball."
South Medford jumped out to a 13-5 advantage midway through the first quarter and led 27-16 at halftime thanks to zero turnovers. The Panthers extended their lead to 17 points through three quarters and led by as many as 22 early in the fourth before Southridge was finally able to cut into its deficit.
Senior A.J. Monterossi had 21 points and seven assists to pace the Skyhawks (14-12), who finished third to Sunset and Jesuit in the Metro League.
"We didn't match their energy early," said Southridge head coach Phil Vesel. "I thought they kinda smacked us early and we never recovered. You get anxious when you get down on the road and we missed a lot of easy ones around the rim and it snowballed. By the time we settled into the game, we're down 15 and we couldn't get over that hump."
The Panthers will face a third straight Metro League foe in Jesuit for Thursday's state quarterfinals at the Moda Center in Portland. The Crusaders (17-8) beat Reynolds 53-41 to secure their sixth straight quarterfinals appearance.
"It won't be easy," Murphy said of the continued task in the playoffs, "but we're surely going to enjoy what we've done to this point. You win another conference title and, boy, there's lots to be proud of."
The Panthers' defensive effort likely was the tipping point against Southridge, which placed fourth at the state tourney last year. South Medford limited the Skyhawks to no more than four field goals in each of the first three quarters, and Southridge finished 20-for-61 (33 percent) from the field overall.
"The thing I really hang my hat on as a basketball coach is that you teach kids how to guard and we've done great job of that," said Murphy. "All the way through the playoffs, people have had a hard time scoring on us, and it was that way even in our league."
The great part for Murphy and company is that so many players have had a hand in the team's late-season run after a rocky start that saw them lose five times in a seven-game stretch during the preseason.
"We've got 13 good guys," added Murphy, in his 26th year as the Panthers' coach. "That's a big part, that they've all accepted their roles so well. We care about one stat and that's when we have more points than you do."
SOUTHRIDGE (55) — Monterossi 21, Christensen 7, Pete 6, Seng 6, VanAllen 6, El-Mansy 6, Reel 3, Gaddis 0, Giraldi 0, Beekman 0, Garrett 0, Lewis 0, Vincent 0, Calo 0. Totals: 20-61 7-8 55.
SOUTH MEDFORD (69) — Orndoff 19, Winans 15, Massey 8, Bradford 8, English 7, Lupton 6, Keepes 4, Monical 2, Robertson 0, Lallo 0, Contreras 0, Carter 0, Washington 0. Totals: 25-42 13-17 69.
Southridge 9 7 13 26 — 55
South Medford 17 10 19 23 — 69
3-point goals — Southridge 8-27 (Pete 2, Seng 2, VanAllen 2, Reel 1, El-Mansy 1), South Medford 6-12 (Winans 2, Lupton 2, Massey 1, Orndoff 1). Fouled out — Reel.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry