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Tornado rallies for key SOC victory

North shrugs off first-half woes to ease past Pelicans

With so much athleticism and talent on its roster, the North Medford boys basketball team is going to have plenty of nights where it prevails in glamorous fashion.

Friday night wasn't particularly one of those occasions, although the final outcome carried a certain luster for North head coach Tim Sam.

Despite converting only 7 of 21 field goal attempts in the first half and 19 of 36 free throws for the game, the Black Tornado rallied to upend a gritty Klamath Union team, 66-58, at North High.

The win snapped a two-game losing skid for the Tornado (7-5 overall) and pulled North into an all-important tie with the playoff-hopeful Pelicans at 1-1 in the Southern Oregon Conference standings.

It stuck in my mind, and I didn't want to think about it, said Sam, but going 0-2 (in the SOC) and then having our next three on the road, that's not where we wanted to be.

— Trailing 28-20 at intermission following a first half controlled by KU (7-4, 1-1 SOC) gave rise to concerns of a potential identity crisis for the struggling Tornado.

We didn't take care of the basketball, didn't defend and we didn't rebound in the first half, and that's not like us, said Sam. The choice we talked about in the locker room was to come out and play Black Tornado basketball or get beat by 15 or 20 points.

Five quick points to start the third quarter by KU's Seth Hughes enabled the Pelicans to take their biggest lead at 33-22, but only served to fire up North even more.

A jumper from the free-throw line by Ryan Lucas and an inside shot by Ben Running helped stem the tide, although KU was able to build its lead back up to 10 following a baseline shot by backup center Sam Stewart midway through the third.

Then Kyle Williamson sent a warning shot deep from the right corner to serve notice that the Tornado was not going away without a fight.

Williamson, who was 0-for-5 from 3-point range up to that point, splashed a trey to ignite a 12-3 run and capped the surge with another 3-pointer from even further out on the right wing.

I thought it was long, Williamson said of the first trey. I let go and thought, 'Oh no, not another one.' When it went in, I think that just got everyone going.

After the dust settled, North trailed only 39-38 with two minutes to play in the third quarter and had KU shifting back on its heels.

I thought Williamson had a spectacular game, KU head coach Bret Crawford said of the 6-foot-2 North junior. He was the one who broke the ice. Our zone was bothering them until Williamson started bombing some really deep 3s. That forced us to come out of our zone, and that opened it up for Lucas around the free-throw line and then things started clicking for North.

Williamson finished with 17 points and five assists, while Lucas scored 20 of his game-high 23 in the second half.

A free-throw by Lucas allowed North to pull into a tie momentarily, with Paxton Ritter's 3-pointer providing an answer for the Pelicans. Unfazed, the Tornado bounced back with an inside basket by Kendall Gielow and then capped the quarter with a lob basket by Lucas to give North a 43-42 lead heading into the fourth.

It was North's first lead since an 8-7 margin about 2&

189; minutes into the contest, and the last time the lead changed hands.

We knew it was just a matter of time, said Williamson. In the first half it wasn't as much them as us. We were throwing bad passes and showing no patience at all. We did it to ourselves.

KU lost leading scorer Will Sargent with his fifth foul on the first play of the fourth quarter, then committed three straight turnovers that led to North layups as the Tornado began to roll.

When they took that piece, that's like taking your queen away in a chess match, Crawford said of losing Sargent, who had six points and seven rebounds in limited action. Our pawns just couldn't keep up.

Conversely, North was just hitting its stride, especially on defense.

Their defense stifled us down the stretch, added Crawford. We had a hard time getting into our offense.

The final four minutes turned into a free-throw competition, with neither team blistering the nets. KU converted only 15 of 28 on the night ' 5 of 14 in the first half ' while North was primarily saved by Lucas, who was 9-for-11 from the charity stripe in the final frame.

I was thankful the ball got in his hands and he was able to cash in, Sam said of the all-conference senior post.

And like most in the Tornado locker room, thankful North was able to show there's more than one way to win a basketball game.

Especially after that tough loss to South Medford (on Tuesday), we really needed this to stay in the playoff race, said Williamson.

Jacob Wynn led KU with 20 points and Ritter had 12. Drew Herrera had seven assists and five points for North, while Beau Hovland added eight points and Gielow six points and six rebounds.

KLAMATH UNION (58) ' Wynn 20, Ritter 12, S. Hughes 8, Sargent 6, B. Hughes 6, Spires 4, Stewart 2, Bennett 0. Totals: 19-53 15-28 58.

NORTH MEDFORD (66) ' Lucas 23, Williamson 17, Hovland 8, Gielow 6, Herrera 5, Running 4, Ryan 2, Berger 1, O'Brien 0. Totals: 21-39 19-36 66.

Klamath Union............................19 9 14 16 ' 58

North Medford............................13 7 23 23 ' 66

3-point goals ' Klamath Union 5 (Ritter 2, Wynn 1, B. Hughes 1, S. Hughes 1), North Medford 5 (Williamson 3, Hovland 2). Fouled out ' Sargent, Spires, Hovland.

JV score ' North Medford 67, Klamath Union 58.

North Medford?s Kyle Williamson, front, grabs the loose ball in front of Klamath Union?s Will Sargent (22) and Black Tornado teammate Kendall Gielow (21). Mail Tribune / Andrew Mariman - Mail Tribune Andrew Mariman