South rises again
Three days removed from a lifeless display against its cross-town rival, South Medford showed a much different side to its personae Friday night in a pivotal Southwest Conference boys basketball matchup against South Eugene.
It would have been easy for the Panthers to pack it in after the visiting Axemen opened a 12-2 lead in the first 2½ minutes of action, but the fight to punch back was alive and well on the South Medford sideline on this night.
After consecutive dunks by junior Josh Washington energized the home faithful, the reinvigorated Panthers slowly but surely began to chip away at their double-digit deficit before amazingly being able to walk away with a 79-61 triumph.
The home victory allowed South Medford (10-5) to pull into a first-place tie in the SWC with South Eugene (10-6) at 4-1 in league, one game ahead of North Medford and Sheldon. It also helped erase the bitter taste of Tuesday’s 48-34 loss to the Black Tornado.
“It was good basketball, really good basketball,” said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy of his team’s comeback effort. “We got a little bit of a flow going finally.”
Five Panthers scored in double figures, led by Brayden Massey’s 19 points, and the team combined for 18 assists and outrebounded the Axemen 31-16.
“We just couldn’t get them off the boards,” said South Eugene head coach Dave Hancock. “They just really beat us on the boards. The final score is not indicative of the game but unless we address and come to terms with blocking people out, we’re not going to win.”
South Medford got a big lift with the return of 6-foot-9 senior Cameron English, who has only had one practice since breaking his nose Jan. 6 against Sheldon. English came off the bench for 14 points and six rebounds and did just enough to slow South Eugene 6-6 standout Eli Lininger, who had 18 of his 24 points in the first half.
“Cam hasn’t practiced for 15 days and how many rebounds and tips did he get? Those are just hustle plays and we needed that,” said Murphy, whose team was without 6-8 junior Hunter Bradford due to a severe concussion suffered Tuesday.
“Some day this whole puzzle will get put together,” added Murphy. “We’ve said if we can get all the pieces and really work with all the pieces, we could be very good.”
Besides his 19 points, Massey finished with seven assists and three rebounds. Eskari Carter contributed 15 points, seven rebounds and three assists, Washington had 10 points, five assists and three rebounds and Conor Carroll came off the bench for 14 points.
Panthers senior Craig Contreras added another all-around effort with seven points, 10 rebounds, two assists and one of his team’s four blocks.
South Medford was a crisp 30-for-48 from the field thanks to a host of rebound baskets. After letting South Eugene seemingly score at will while it took a 23-14 lead through one quarter, the Panthers also did well to make enough stops that they could seize their first lead of the game midway through the third quarter.
“We’re getting there; it’s going to be put together,” said Massey. “We showed a little bit of that tonight and there’s more to come, especially when we get everyone healthy. When that happens we’re going to be pretty dangerous.”
The only danger the Panthers showed early was to Murphy’s heart as South Eugene did everything it wanted — even without senior point guard Kirk Bassett in the lineup — in the opening quarter. The Yale-bound Lininger scored 11 first-quarter points and running mate Mason Green-Richards added eight of his 10 points in that frame — one coming on a technical foul free throw to start the game after South Medford’s scorebook showed an incorrect starting lineup.
Five different Panthers scored in the second quarter to trim their deficit to 39-34 at the break, then Murphy let his team know the opportunity they were wasting if they didn’t dial up their focus and intensity.
“It was a sense of urgency, it was do or die, it really was,” Murphy said of Friday’s contest. “You know you’re going on the road to play North, to play Sheldon and South Eugene … if you get beat here I think you put yourself out of it. That was a little bit of what halftime was about. I really got after them at halftime and, to their credit, boy they came out and answered the bell and really played hard.”
SOUTH EUGENE (61) — Lininger 24, O’Neil 12, Green-Richards 10, Bowers 6, Holland 5, Gorman 2, Morrison 2, Brandt 0, Fredricks 0. Totals: 27-59 3-7 61.
SOUTH MEDFORD (79) — Massey 19, Carter 15, English 14, Carroll 14, Washington 10, Contreras 7, Franklin 0, Benford 0, Martin 0. Totals: 30-48 13-19 79.
3-point goals — South Eugene 4-16 (O’Neil 2, Lininger 1, Green-Richards 1), South Medford 6-17 (Massey 2, Carroll 2, Carter 2). Fouled out — Bowers, Green-Richards. Technical fouls — South Medford scorebook.
JV score — South Eugene 65, South Medford 62.
Reach reporter Kris Henry at 541-776-4488, email@example.com, www.facebook.com/krishenryMT or www.twitter.com/Kris_Henry