Through three quarters, Friday’s Southwest Conference boys basketball opener was exactly what one might expect between host North Medford and Sheldon.
Tabbed as two of the top contenders for the SWC crown, the Black Tornado and Irish battled tooth-and-nail to a four-point difference and seemed destined to take their heavyweight clash to the buzzer at North Medford High.
Only that didn’t happen.
North Medford ratcheted up its defense in the fourth quarter and found an offensive consistency that was lacking in the opening 24 minutes to put Sheldon in its rearview mirror for a 71-49 victory that didn’t accurately reflect the back-and-forth tension on this night.
“It was tight all the way through until we executed a couple plays and got a couple stops,” said Black Tornado head coach Scott Plankenhorn. “Then from there it really did kind of stretch, but for the most part it was a tight game. In the early fourth quarter, there were a couple plays back-and-forth that if they make the play, who knows what happens. But we were able to make those plays tonight and able to stretch them.”
Senior standout Kaison Faust scored 12 of his game-high 24 points in the fourth quarter and totaled 10 rebounds and three steals to help North Medford (12-1, 1-0 SWC) earn its 10th straight victory. Senior point guard Oscar Banuelos added 19 points and four assists in one of the rare times the Black Tornado has needed a fourth-quarter push this season.
“We may not have a lot of experience down the stretch,” said Faust, “but I think with the leadership that we had and the team we have right now, I think we just were able to stay calm really and finish it out.”
Senior Patrick Herbert had 12 points and seven rebounds to pace Sheldon (6-6, 0-1), which has lost four of its last five games against stiff competition. The Irish were tabbed in the SWC preseason coaches poll to finish third by a narrow margin behind South Eugene and North Medford.
“I was proud of the way our kids really competed,” said Sheldon head coach Dan Clark. “It wasn’t a lack of competitiveness that got us, it was just a lack of discipline on the offensive end. We took some bad shots and had too many turnovers, which allowed their offense to get going. I thought we defended them really well throughout the night, it was just our bad offense created their offense.”
North Medford took a 44-40 lead into the final quarter but got a three-point play from Faust and a putback by the 6-foot-2 wing to pad its lead while Sheldon went scoreless with one-and-done efforts.
In an ensuing three-minute span, the Black Tornado removed all doubt with a 16-5 surge highlighted by some acrobatic driving finishes by Banuelos and senior Quinton Rumrey, who finished with nine points.
“They do a great job of making you pay for your mistakes,” said Clark. “They get the ball down the floor quickly and if you’re not fully engaged in what you’re supposed to do they’re going to make you pay.”
Defensively, North Medford took advantage of some quick shots by Sheldon to limit the Irish to 4-for-15 shooting in the final frame and then went 9-for-13 at the opposite end. The Black Tornado also knocked down 9 of 11 free throws in the fourth quarter to extend its lead.
“We got a lot of stops there in the fourth quarter,” said Plankenhorn. “I thought we did a lot better job of defending their actions and cleaning up the rebounds.”
Hounded by constant attention from Sheldon’s Uta Mageo, among others, Faust slowly integrated himself into the game before finally putting his stamp on the action in the second half. Banuelos helped carry the scoring load in the early going with junior reserve Garrett Parker, who had key stretches in the middle quarters to finish with 11 points, but it was Faust who shut the door on the Irish.
“Experience is just what it came down to for me, and staying calm,” said Faust. “I was just able to play through my teammates and they got me the ball and I was just doing what I do best.”
Senior Jake O’Connor notched the bulk of his four assists on entry passes to Faust and finished with six rebounds, while Eli Spence added seven points, four boards and two assists on a night when nothing came easy.
“They’re a really solid team on defense,” added Faust. “That’s one of the top teams in the conference and to start off with a win against them at home is just going to set the momentum for the next game.”
Devante Bailey had 10 points for Sheldon, while Jaren Banks added eight points and six rebounds.
SHELDON (49): Herbert 12, Bailey 10, Mageo 8, Banks 8, McGarvey 5, Hankins 2, LuVert 2, Wagers 2, Paul 0, Owen 0. Totals: 22-52 2-8 49.
NORTH MEDFORD (71): Faust 24, Banuelos 19, Parker 11, Rumrey 9, Spence 7, Wells 1, O’Connor 0. Totals: 22-49 21-32 71.
3-point goals — Sheldon 3-13 (Mageo 2, Bailey 1), North Medford 6-19 (Banuelos 3, Parker 2, Rumrey 1). Technical foul — Mageo.
JV score — Sheldon 50, North Medford 47.
— Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry