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Panthers pull upset

The boys basketball season may be in its early stages, but South Medford’s players certainly had a look of exhilaration typically reserved for state-playoff contests following Saturday’s 76-70 win over Jesuit .

That was due in large part to how the game was played between the second-ranked Crusaders and ninth-ranked Panthers, with playoff-like intensity on the defensive end to go with an undeniable focus on the offensive end at South Medford High.

“They’ve just matured so much and I’m awfully, awfully proud of them,” said South Medford head coach Dennis Murphy. “We surely have a long ways to go but this was a huge measurement for us, and you surely have to like the outcome.”

“It’s just a huge, huge step for us,” added the coach, “and this team especially.”

In the end, it was South Medford senior Eskari Carter — challenged boisterously by his head coach two quarters earlier — who provided the final touches on a momentum-building win for the Panthers (4-0).

Carter, a 6-foot-2 senior, scored 19 of his team-high 21 points after that face-to-face encounter with Murphy, including a clutch 9-for-11 showing at the foul line in the fourth quarter to keep the Crusaders (2-1) at bay.

“It just really motivated me to go out there and play how I know how to play and push myself to be one of the better players out on the court,” said Carter of the exchange. “I did that and got aggressive and it worked out.”

Never known to bite his tongue, Murphy’s “pep talk” to Carter came with the Panthers trailing Jesuit 25-22 midway through the second quarter.

“He’s such a great kid and we’ve talked all year that you have to have a presence out there and you’re good enough to have a presence and you need to be the guy,” said Murphy, “so just relax and play and go that and everything will take care of itself.”

While the senior was the focus of attention, the message to “step up” was felt throughout the South Medford lineup. Riley Martin followed with a steal and made his first free throw, but when the second missed the mark, senior Hunter Bradford nabbed the rebound and found Carter for a layin to tie the game at 25-all.

Carter then answered a driving basket by Jesuit junior Cameron Parker, who had a game-high 25 points, with one of his own to keep things tight. When Martin leaked out for a layup following a nice transition look from sophomore Kaleb Franklin, South Medford had its first lead since the opening quarter and did not give it up thereafter.

The Panthers led by as many as 10 points in the third quarter but had their lead trimmed to two points early in the fourth before an elbow jumper by sophomore Chase Cota ignited an 11-0 run.

Jesuit later used an eight-point possession — a three-point play by Parker, ensuing technical foul free throws by Parker and 3-pointer by Chuka Mekkam when the Crusaders retained possession — to pull within two points at 58-56 with three minutes to play.

But Carter answered with a three-point play of his own and then a pair of free throws to rebuild the Panthers’ cushion to 63-56.

Jesuit kept firing away at South Medford down the stretch with gritty play on offense and then hopeful fouls on defense to extend the game, but the Panthers were 19-for-28 at the line to fend off the Crusaders.

“They did a really good job and (Carter) had it really going at the line,” said Jesuit head coach Gene Potter. “They did a good job of getting the ball in his hands and we had a hard time getting it out of his hands to try and foul someone else. I was proud how the kids extended the game, and that’s something you’ve got to work on. Hopefully at some point in time you can extend the game and get a win out of it.”

Carter had four rebounds to go with his 21 points, while senior Josh Washington finished with 15 points and seven rebounds and Franklin had 10 points, four assists and three rebounds for South Medford. Conor Carroll added eight points and four boards and Martin was a sparkplug off the bench with eight points, two assists and two steals.

“We played a real mixture of kids throughout the game and I thought kids stepped into their roles at different times and did a great job,” said Murphy.

Malcolm Porter provided a perfect complement to Parker with 24 points, five rebounds and two assists, while Mekkam drained all three of his 3-pointers in the final three minutes to give Jesuit hope and finished with 13 points and six rebounds.

Overall, the game was a far cry from Friday’s 79-57 win over North Medford for Jesuit, which had seven fewer field goals despite five more attempts against South Medford.

“We didn’t shoot particularly well early, and that was a lot of South,” said Potter. “They’ve got a lot of length, they defend really well and they’re really well-coached. It wasn’t quite as free-flowing a game as it was last night and the boys know that’s going to be our issue. We’ve got to be able to do something in the halfcourt besides dribble around and jack shots.

“We didn’t do anything besides that and that kind of dug us a little bit of a hole. I thought we battled hard to try and come back but we’re going to have to be a whole lot better in the halfcourt to have a chance to beat quality teams.”

A downside Saturday for South Medford was the loss of Bradford, who had six points, five rebounds, one assist and one blocked shot before crumpling to the floor due to back spasms with 26 seconds to play in the first half. He didn’t return, and his status is day-to-day.

With or without Bradford, however, Carter said the Panthers’ belief remained undeterred.

“We just had to find it in ourselves to come out and say, ‘We’re going to do this,’” said Carter. “It was one of our goals (to beat Jesuit) and we just had to find it in ourselves to go out there and have fun and just do what we do. It was fun getting out there and competing with people of higher competition and just really showing what we’ve got.”

JESUIT (70): Parker 25, Porter 24, Mekkam 13, Kollas 4, Dalebroux 2, Hickman 2, Lang 0, Turina 0. Totals: 23-56 19-24 70.

SOUTH MEDFORD (76): Carter 21, Washington 15, Franklin 10, Carroll 8, Martin 8, Bradford 6, Cota 6, Benford 2. Totals: 25-50 25-40 76.

Jesuit;19;10;13;28;—;70

South Medford;16;15;14;31;—;76

3-point goals — Jesuit 5-24 (Mekkam 3, Porter 2), South Medford 1-9 (Bradford 1). Fouled out — Dalebroux, Hickman, Parker, Benford. Technical fouls — Franklin.

JV score — Jesuit 70, South Medford 53.

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

South Medford senior post Josh Washington rejoices with a fan after the ninth-ranked Panthers upset No. 2 Jesuit at South Medford High on Saturday. South Medford won, 76-70. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH
South Medford senior guard Eskari Carter goes up for a layup against Jesuit at South Medford High on Saturday. Carter led the Panthers with 21 points. MAIL TRIBUNE / JAMIE LUSCH