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Panthers get back to basics

Typically at their best when their foot is on the gas pedal, fifth-ranked South Medford dialed it down a little on Friday night — and that proved to be the jolt the Panthers needed to overcome South Eugene.

South Medford found itself playing a little out of control early against the Axemen, and that allowed the visitors from Eugene to take a 20-17 lead through nearly nine minutes of play.

Showing more patience on the offensive end in their ensuing possessions, the Panthers went on a pivotal 18-4 run to close out the first half and essentially clip any hopes of an upset by South Eugene.

South Medford was never really challenged after that spurt, allowing the hosts to walk away with a 63-49 triumph and remain tied with North Medford atop the Southwest Conference standings.

"We didn't respond in the second quarter and that was the break that they needed," said South Eugene coach Dave Hancock. "They're too good of a team to chase points on."

E.J. Singler played a key role in South Medford's resurgence, scoring 13 of his game-high 19 points during the 18-4 run that allowed the Panthers (14-3, 6-1 SWC) to take a 35-24 advantage into halftime.

The 6-foot-6 junior post also finished with 12 rebounds, five assists and four blocked shots before fouling out with 2:33 to play.

"I thought E.J. was really, really good tonight," said Hancock, whose team dropped to 8-9 overall and 3-4 in league play. "He outplayed us inside and just about anybody we put on him. We didn't respond to his aggressiveness and his intensity. I just thought he did a super job ... E.J. was a big difference."

While South Medford was at its best, the Axemen were at their worst in that span — converting only 2 of 13 shots over the final 6:40 of the first half.

Zach Haveman, a 5-9 senior who came up big all night, drilled a 3-pointer from the corner off an assist by Singler to pull the game even at 20-all. Haveman finished with 14 points — seven coming in the first quarter.

"That's important for him but it's really important for us because that just gets us going," said South Medford coach Dennis Murphy. "He really stepped up and played well and defended well, too. He knocked down some big shots, and we need that."

Michael Harthun followed with a pull-up jumper and Singler scored the next six points of the game to put the Panthers ahead 28-20 in a span of 21/2 minutes.

After a couple inside baskets by Travis Rooke-Ley stemmed the tide, Singler picked up where he left off and tallied the final seven points of the quarter to give the Panthers a big boost heading into intermission.

The Axemen managed only two field goals in the third quarter to quiet any hopes of a comeback, and essentially traded baskets with South Medford in the fourth quarter to lose for the second time this season to the Panthers.

South Eugene actually had South Medford on the ropes in the first meeting between the two teams until Harthun single-handedly rescued the hometown team with a career-high 39 points.

The Axemen did their best to keep the ball out of Harthun's hands for most of Friday's game with tight coverage by Rooke-Ley and Issac Lapite off the bench, but South Medford's supporting cast stepped up when called upon.

Mitch Singler added six points, eight rebounds and two assists, while fellow starter, senior Griff Boyd, tallied only four points but was a terror all over the court and finished with three steals. Senior reserve Brandon Kezer also had six points, four rebounds and two steals.

"I think one big difference we saw from this time to last time is they passed the ball really well tonight," said Hancock. "They moved the ball well and shared the ball, and that obviously makes them a much better team."

Harthun played a big role in that ball movement, finishing with six assists to go with 13 points and four rebounds. Still hampered by a back injury that had him receiving laser therapy earlier in the day, the 6-3 senior point guard didn't hesitate to mix it up inside and take the ball to the basket in what turned into a very physical contest.

Sophomore Spencer Coleman scored all of his team-high 13 points in the second half for the Axemen and finished with eight rebounds, while senior John Hayward-Mayhew added nine points and nine rebounds.

Murphy said Friday's performance also was a character test for the Panthers, who were playing their first game since losing to North Medford last Saturday.

"The important thing was we needed to come back and respond after a loss and play tough, and I thought we did that," said Murphy, whose team next plays at Sheldon at 7 tonight. "I think that was a big thing for us tonight."

SOUTH EUGENE (49) — S. Coleman 13, Hayward-Mayhew 9, H. Rooke-Ley 7, A. Coleman 7, T. Rooke-Ley 6, Brown 5, Lapite 2, Lokombo 0, Trachtenberg 0, Jacobs 0, Masterson 0, Risinger 0. Totals: 20-64 8-12 49.

SOUTH MEDFORD (63) — E.J. Singler 19, Haveman 14, Harthun 13, M. Singler 6, Kezer 6, Boyd 4, Aguirre 1, Walport 0, Phillips 0, Work 0. Totals: 26-51 9-16 63.

South Eugene 15 9 7 18 — 49

South Medford 13 22 11 17 — 63

3-point goals — South Eugene 1-9 (Brown 1), South Medford 2-8 (Haveman 2). Fouled out — E.J. Singler.

JV score — South Eugene 55, South Medford 54.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 776-4488, or e-mail khenry@mailtribune.com

Panthers get back to basics