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North falters in SWC opener

On-court intangibles have led North Medford to an impressive start to the boys basketball season, but the fifth-ranked Black Tornado found itself lacking throughout Tuesday’s Southwest Conference opener against South Eugene.

The sharp-shooting and defensive tenacity that carried North Medford through the early going was nowhere to be found against the veteran Axemen, who controlled a majority of the action and survived a late rally to score a 67-50 road triumph.

North Medford converted only 20 of 53 shots thanks to a cool 24-percent clip from 3-point range (6 of 25) and allowed a 62-percent success rate by South Eugene in a battle of potential conference contenders.

“When that (shooting) goes bad, you better play some defense, and we didn’t have any defense tonight,” said North Medford head coach Scott Plankenhorn. “They shot at a 62-percent clip and we only forced 10 turnovers and couldn’t keep them off the glass. It was all bad combinations for us.”

Mason Green-Richards had 19 points and five rebounds for South Eugene (7-5, 1-0 SWC), while Yale-bound 6-foot-6 forward Eli Lininger supplied 18 points, 15 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. Sean O’Neil, one of the Axemen’s four returning starters, scored eight of his 14 points in the fourth quarter to go with four rebounds and four assists.

For North Medford (9-2, 0-1), 6-2 senior Tristen Holmes managed 16 points and seven rebounds, junior Brian Schireman added 14 points and four rebounds and junior Tucker Barry had nine points. Holmes and Schireman were each 6-for-15 from the field, with Schireman only 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.

“We just got a little impatient on the offensive end,” said Plankenhorn. “We didn’t go for extra passes and that’s been our trademark all season. When we go through stats and check assists, we’re not going to have as many as normal. That’s something we’ve lived on and we just didn’t get it done today.”

Holmes, Schireman and senior Jared Faust each led the way with two assists, which is a far cry from how the Black Tornado has played thus far. South Eugene’s defensive schemes, however, were pivotal in creating a stagnant North Medford offense.

“We had some good individual efforts and then we have some good people to match up on their big scorers,” said South Eugene head coach Dave Hancock. “Like with Tristen, Eli can take him and all of a sudden that’s a bigger target and he’s not going against a little guard out there.”

South Eugene led 31-30 at intermission but was almost flawless in its third-quarter execution in outscoring the Black Tornado 17-7. The Axemen scored on 9 of 13 possessions in the quarter – many on layins – and held North scoreless for a 3½ minute stretch.

“They’re a very good basketball team,” said Plankenhorn. “They have quality players at every single position. They all can score it and they all can drive it, and that makes it tough because you’re challenged on keeping spacing and trying to keep people in front of you.”

Even with its combination of woes, North Medford still found itself with a fighting chance, trailing only 52-46 with 4:20 to play after a pair of clutch baskets by Schireman and Holmes.

After a timeout, however, South Eugene dribbled off one minute before Lininger scored a layin off a nice assist by Green-Richards. That play kick-started an 11-0 run to seal North Medford’s fate.

“We are getting a little better at just using the ball a little smarter,” said Hancock, whose team was picked second to South Medford in the preseason SWC coaches poll. “We talked about at halftime that we didn’t think we were real smart, we were trying to hurry the game and make passes that weren’t there. We did a better job on things like that in the second half.”

North Medford opened the night as the No. 2 seed in the Class 6A power rankings and Plankenhorn’s hope is his team can put Tuesday’s game behind it and chalk it up as a learning experience.

“It’s a bad one to lose but it doesn’t end your hopes and dreams,” he said. “We’ve got to bounce back because no one’s going to feel sorry for you the next game. We better have two good practices to get ready for Willamette (on Friday).”

SOUTH EUGENE (67) – Green-Richards 19, Lininger 18, O’Neil 14, Bowers 8, Bassett 5, Morrison 2, Brandt 1, Fredricks 0, Gorman 0, Holland 0. Totals: 28-45 9-16 67.

NORTH MEDFORD (50) – Holmes 16, Schireman 14, Barry 9, Singleton 6, Wolfe 5, Polataivao 0, Faust 0, Dixon 0, Brothers 0, Allen 0, Lasota 0. Totals: 20-53 4-8 50.

South Eugene;13;18;17;19;--;67

North Medford;15;15;7;13;--;50

3-point goals – South Eugene 2-5 (Green-Richards 2), North Medford 6-25 (Singleton 2, Holmes 1, Schireman 1, Barry 1, Wolfe 1).

JV score – South Eugene 72, North Medford 68, OT.

Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, khenry@mailtribune.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry

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North Medford's Tucker Barry goes up for a rebound over South Eugene's Eli Lininger during the second half at North Medford Tuesday. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH
Brian Schireman of the Black Tornado goes up over South Eugene's Josh Bowers during the first half Tuesday. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH