PIL rivals turn it up a notch
Want to see the boys basketball game at Jefferson High on Feb. 16? Plan to get there plenty early.
If the season's first two editions of Jefferson-Grant are any indication, the third should be another doozy.
That Jefferson escaped with two wins over Grant seven days apart only figures to spice things up for Round 3.
Saturday's 81-80 Jeff win in a game that needed overtime entertained — and indicates there is not much to separate the Portland Interscholastic League rivals ranked 1 and 2 in Class 6A.
The Democrats (9-2, 3-0 PIL) and the Generals (8-3, 3-1) walked away from Saturday's contest in a packed gym at the Marshall Campus — a spectacle that featured 21 lead changes, including six in overtime — vowing to get better.
It is hard to imagine Jefferson junior Marcus Tsohonis playing much better than he did on Saturday. Each time the Generals seemed to have the upper hand, the 6-5 guard in his third varsity season found a way to answer, to the tune of 35 points.
The last of those was a floating, 10-foot shot after penetrating the key, a basket that provided the final lead change and final points in a game as memorable as any recent regular-season contest.
"Marcus had one of the best games I've seen him play at Jefferson. And we needed every inch of what he did tonight. He showed why he's one of — if not the best — point guard in the state," Jefferson coach Pat Strickland said.
The Democrats' losses came to Montverde (Florida) in the Iolani Classic championship game in Hawai'i and to Mater Dei of Santa Ana, California, in the Les Schwab Invitational.
Tsohonis, Texas Longhorns-bound Kamaka Hepa, and guard Robert Ford return from last season's state championship team. But even with talented transfers such as 6-8 Khalil Chatman, Strickland knew it would take time for his team to find its stride.
"We have eight new faces, so this is something that's still coming together," Strickland said. "We're still early in the process. I know we've got to rebound better. We've got to get tougher. We've got to run our sets better. We pretty much have to do everything much better."
One thing Jefferson did better in the second game against Grant was defend Generals guard Aaron Deloney. One week earlier, the junior went for 30 points against Jeff at the LSI.
Strickland said the Democrats took that performance personally. On Saturday, Deloney made only two field goals, but still put up 19 points by sinking 13 foul shots.
"We did a good job (on Deloney). But their other guys stepped up and played us to the wire," Strickland said.
Grant returns four starters from the team that lost in the fourth-place game of last season's Oregon School Activities Association tournament. Junior wing Ty Rankin had 21 points on Saturday, and senior Damon Hickok hit a couple big 3-pointers to help the Generals to a nine-point halftime lead.
The key newcomer is Darius Guinn, a 6-6 senior who played previously at Lakeridge and Franklin. Guinn scored 10 of his 15 points in the first half on Saturday.
Grant coach Robert Key said that, other than the result, the Generals met the goal in every area of emphasis against Jefferson, including rebounding, second-chance points, points in the paint and getting to the foul line (15 for 19).
Grant's only loss not to Jefferson this season came against national power Oak Hill Academy from Virginia in the Les Schwab semifinals.
Saturday's win was the sixth in just the past 13 months for Jefferson over Grant. But the Generals have the respect of their Demos friends.
"They're a really good team, and they proved to us that they are a top contender in the state," Hepa said.
Hepa, who finished with 13 points, was a vocal leader down the stretch on Saturday. His message was to play with poise.
"We did a pretty good job of staying together through some adversity. It was a back-and-forth game, a really good game, and (Grant) played really well," Hepa said. "I think we have a lot to work on when we get back to practice."
Grant senior Kelton Samore, who battled Hepa around the basket, said the disappointing result will not take away from the progress the Generals are making — or from the experience of playing in such a highly competitive contest.
"Emotions for everybody were running pretty high," Samore said. "It was a packed house, really loud. A great game. Everyone played with a lot of energy. ... Both teams really wanted it."
Samore pointed to rebounding as an area where the Generals improved from their loss to the Demos in the third-place game of the Schwab. He is confident his team will use the latest setback and make the most of the seven weeks until it sees Jeff again.
"It's a long season. We want to learn and get better," Samore said, adding that the postgame message for the Generals was: "We're coming back."
n In addition to two of the elite teams in the state, the PIL has several solid squads — as Saturday's showcase day showed. Three of the four games came down to the closing seconds, with Lincoln edging Roosevelt 55-54, and Madison giving Cleveland its first league loss, 68-64.
"This is my 19th year, and this is right up there as far as how competitive the league is one through nine," Madison coach Chuck Matthews said. "There's the class of the league (Jefferson and Grant), but then everybody can beat everybody."
Grant's Key agrees, calling this the most competitive PIL basketball league since he returned to the league four years ago to coach the Generals.
n The top two girls basketball teams in the PIL also clashed Saturday at Marshall, with Benson surviving a big rally from Grant for a 56-53 win.
Benson's quickness and size was evident as the Techsters built a 20-point lead in the third quarter. But Grant came hustling back behind Daryn Hickok and Marin Leonard, pulling to within two points late.
The result gave Benson (9-3 overall with losses to teams from Washington, Maryland and California) a leg up in the race for the PIL title that the teams shared last season.
The Techsters are led by 6-0 Ciera Ellington, 6-1 Tayler LyDay and 5-3 point guard Makenzy Porter, who combined for 34 points against Grant. All three juniors have NCAA Division-I aspirations — and have their sights on the state tournament. Their two previous seasons ended with a loss in the first state playoff round.
Porter said last season the Techsters might not have survived the kind of rally Grant produced. She said a trip to the Title IX tournament in Washington, D.C. (where Benson went 1-2), showed the Techsters "we can compete with anybody and everybody. It doesn't matter who you are or where you're ranked, we just got to get out there and play our basketball."
Benson coach Eric Knox likes his team's commitment, but said foul trouble can be a problem for his team.
"That's an issue we've had to address — just staying disciplined defensively, not trying to do something heroic," Knox said. "Our kids are so quick, so athletic, they think they can make a play on everything and it gets them in foul trouble."