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South too tall for speedy Eagles

Payton Owens demonstrated his best in the clutch for South Medford in the consolation semifinals of the 28th annual Abby’s Holiday Classic boys basketball tournament.

The 6-foot-1 junior sank four consecutive free throws — his only points of the game — in the final seconds to help the Panthers hold off gritty Eagle Point, 52-46, at North Medford High Thursday.

South Medford (3-6) advances to the fourth-place game against Forest Grove (4-6) at 1:45 p.m. today in the Black Tornado Gym. The Eagles (1-8) will try to salvage a victory in the eight-team event with a noon contest against La Salle (2-7) of Milwaukie at North.

The game was a contrast in styles with Eagle Point playing at a frenetic pace against much taller, deliberate South Medford. The Eagles, who lost to the Panthers 79-59 on December 5, were effective with a 1-2-2 full court match-up zone press that forced the Panthers into 20 turnovers and didn’t allow South to get into an offensive rhythm.

“We wanted to speed up things,” said Eagle Point assistant Micah Shibano, “and put a lot of pressure on their backcourt. We didn’t want to let them get it into their bigs.”

Shibano, a three-year assistant, has been filling in for head coach Brent McConaghy, who collapsed during the first matchup against South Medford and hasn’t returned to the bench.

South Medford countered the Eagles’ fast-paced style with a pair of tall senior posts — Jesse Higgins and Nick Randleman — and 6-4 Thomas Fealey and bulky 6-2 Keegan Losinski. The tallest Eagle Point starter is 6-3 junior Hayden Neyt.

The 6-9 Higgins scored eight of his game-high 18 points in the fourth quarter and the 6-4 Randleman finished with nine points.

“We were making sure we always had two guys on (Higgins),” said Shibano. “We can’t beat him height-wise. Our goal was to put more pressure on the ball to make it tough to get it to him.”

Another South Medford post, 6-9 senior backup Caleb English, scored South’s final four points of the first quarter to give the Panthers a 17-11 lead.

“Eagle Point is scrappy and plays hard,” said South Medford coach James Wightman. “Everytime we got up, we couldn’t extend the lead. They pressure you and have active hands.”

After leading 24-20 at halftime, South opened the second half with an 8-2 run and built its biggest lead of the game, 32-22, on a Higgins putback off a Robbie Patterson miss with 4:35 left in the third quarter.

“I was using my height to get to the rim and was being more physical” explained Higgins, who led South with five rebounds. “I also hit a couple of jump shots.”

But Eagle Point answered back with a 9-4 burst of its own to trail 36-33 entering the final period. Dennen Adams, the Eagles’ top scorer with 17 points, and sophomore reserve wing Quinton Gelbrich keyed the charge with four points each over the final 3:30 of the quarter.

“I was trying to get open shots with our ball movement,” said Adams, who had two of the Eagles’ three 3-pointers. “We wanted to use our speed to force steals and get some easy buckets.”

In the fourth, the Panthers opened up their biggest margin, 44-36, on a Randleman layup off a nifty entry pass from Trent DeBoer.

But the Eagles would not go away and cut South’s advantage to 48-43 with 23 seconds to go.

That’s when Owens was put to the test on a pair of 1-and-1 free throw opportunities.

After being fouled by Manuel Chaparro with 14.7 remaining, Owens first free throw hit off the heel of the basket, went up high in the high air and came right down through the net. His second free throw bounced off the front of the rim and rolled in for a 50-43 lead.

“Mostly I knew I had to make that first one,” said Owens. “After that you have the confidence to make the second one.”

Adams responded by finishing a 3-point play but again Chaparro hacked Owens out of desperation and the South guard swished his attempts this time for the final margin of victory.

Owens credited the Eagle Point press with making things difficult for the Panthers.

“We really weren’t expecting their press,” said Owens. “They forced us to make the skip pass. Sometimes they read it and they picked it off. We didn’t to push the ball and split their defense.

“They have some kids that will go to the floor,” added Owens. “They’re a quick team and they play hard.”

There was no doubt about that.

EAGLE POINT (46): Adams 17, Z. Scott 5, Judd 5, L. Scott 4, Neyt 3, Hoppes Jr. 2, Chaparro 2, Vance 2, Gelbrich 6, Gorman 0. Totals: 17 9-19 46.

SOUTH MEDFORD (54): Hunter 8, DeBoer 4, Patterson 3, Owens 4, T. Boster 0, Losinski 2, Fealey 0, English 4, Randleman 9, Higgins 18. Totals: 21 10-15 54.

Eagle Point;11;9;13;13;—;46

South Medford;17;7;12;16;—;54

3-point goals — Eagle Point 3 (Adams 2, Judd 1). Technical foul — L. Scott.

FOREST GROVE 56, LA SALLE 51: Despite 23 points from La Salle sophomore guard Jace North, who made five 3-pointers, Forest Grove held off the Falcons in the fourth quarter of the other consolation semifinal.

Forest Grove held a four-point margin, 46-42, entering the final period then edged the Falcons 10-9 in the fourth.

Senior guard Kyle Thompson paced the Vikings with 15 points.

FOREST GROVE (56): Smith 1, Duve 5, Richards 5, Funk 2, Riley 2, Purcell 3, Thompson 15, G. Littlefield 5, D. Littlefield 9, Emerick 9. Totals: 21 11-18 56.

La SALLE (51): Kersey-Bronec 0, Norton 23, Pisaneschi 0, Boyd 6, Massaad 0, A. Boyd 6, Bosco 14, North 2, Grogan 0. Totals: 19 6-6 51.

Forest Grove;14;16;16;10;—;56

La Salle;15;16;11;9;—;51

3-point goals — Forest Grove 3 (Duvel 1, Littlefield 1, Thompson 1), La Salle 7 (Norton 5, Boyd 2).

Reach reporter Frank Silow at 541-776-4480 or fsilow@mailtribune.com