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South smothers North, clinches share of SOC title

South's James Wightman goes up with a trio of Black Tornado defenders guarding him.

South Medford's boys basketball team staged a clinic in suffocating man-to-man defensive pressure.

In the past, that role has been played by coach Terry Gregg's North Medford's ferocious defenders quite well, but the Panthers went one-up on the visiting Black Tornado Saturday night in smothering their cross-town rivals, 75-44.

The victory before a near-capacity crowd was South's 27th straight in Southern Oregon Conference play over two seasons and ran the Panthers' record to 12-0, while clinching at least a tie for the conference title.

Roseburg and North Medford tumbled four games off the pace and into a tie with Klamath Union. But since all three teams have already lost to South Medford twice, the Panthers are assured of the Southern Oregon Conference's No. — berth in the Class 4A state tournament March 10-14 at Portland.

The sixth-ranked Panthers (18-2) open in the state tournament on March 11 at 7 p.m. at Portland's Memorial Coliseum.

South Medford held North Medford without a field goal in the second quarter and allowed the Black Tornado just 13 shots in the first half. North made just two of those shots and trailed 16-7 after one quarter and 31-13 by halftime.

But the Panthers weren't finished. They outscored North 29-12 in the third quarter to open a 59-25 lead heading into the final quarter.

That's the best we've played this year, especially defensively, said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. I'm really pleased with the way we played defense.

If we can play like that defensively in Portland (at the state tournament), we've got a chance.

Senior forward Bryn Ritchie, who limited North Medford forward Jesse Fowler to eight points -- about half of his season average -- said the Panthers have made a new commitment to defense.

We've stepped up defensively and decided we want to play defense hard first and then worry about offense, said Ritchie. We've been doing that the last week, and it's helped us step up and play better.

Ritchie limited Roseburg wing Drew Libby to eight points on Friday night in South's win at Roseburg.

I wanted to try to hold Libby and Fowler to about half their averages this weekend, said Ritchie. I came close.

Murphy raved about Ritchie's defense.

Bryn showed what a kid with athletic ability can do on defense, said Murphy. He played so hard at both ends of the floor. It was a great team effort on defense.

It wasn't Bryn doing it by himself, but he made a lot of big plays just playing hard.

South's defense forced 20 North Medford turnovers, although the Black Tornado dug out 20 turnovers from South to at least play even with the Panthers in that area.

North shot 36 percent (14-39), and that percentage raised markedly in the final four minutes when both teams substituted. South Medford shot 59 percent (27-46).

Ritchie and point guard James Wightman led the Panthers with 17 points each. Senior wing Adam Decker scored 13, including three field goals from 3-point range and forward Scott Okon had 10 points.

South Medford was hungry from the start, scoring seven straight points to open the game, on field goals by center Graham Foster and Decker and a 3-point shot by Wightman.

Ritchie opened the second quarter with eight straight points for South on one free throw, a three-point play and a pair of 15-foot jump shots, as the Panthers increased their lead to 24-9.

The lead grew to 29-12 as Okon tipped in a missed shot and Decker bombed in a 3-pointer from the right wing.

We didn't give them a lot of good shots, said Decker. And we moved the ball better on offense. We wanted to show North we could play better than we did last time.

Wightman, who made a 3-point shot as time ran out in the fourth quarter against North Medford in January to send the game into overtime, ran the Panthers' offense efficiently and scored when he was given open shots out of the offense or on transition layups.

We played — quarters of good basketball, said Wightman. Usually, when we have a 20-point lead at halftime, we have had letdowns. But not tonight. We were determined to go out and keep playing the way we played in the first half.

While holding North Medford to 12 points and no field goals in the third quarter, South had 29 points.

I told our kids I don't remember having a team that held an opponent to no field goals in a quarter, said Murphy. We played great defense. They only got five shot attempts in the quarter, and they didn't make any of them.

North Medford was led by eight points apiece from Jeff Zimmer, Kacy Carter and Fowler. Zimmer hit two 3-point shots.

We didn't show up tonight (mentally), said Gregg. I'm disappointed.

But not surprised. We were kind of disjointed in practice all week, and we didn't play well last night (Friday), even though we beat Mazama.

But we're still in the playoff race, said Gregg. We need to get back at it in practice next week and get ready for Crater and Grants Pass. Those games are big for us.

South smothers North, clinches share of SOC title