South Albany High never found its offensive rhythm Tuesday night against visiting Ashland.
Luckily for the Rebels, quality defense and rebounding paved the way for a 52-40 victory in the OSAA 5A boys basketball state play-in round.
No. 8 South (18-5) advances to Friday’s round of 16 and will host ninth-seeded Putnam (16-9) at 7 p.m. for a berth in next week’s 5A state tournament at Gill Coliseum. The Rebels haven’t reached the state tournament since 2000.
“I know I’m excited and I think all of us are,” junior point guard Jaden Guilford said. “But we’ve got to stay focused and get out of there with the win.
The Kingsmen shared third in the Northwest Oregon Conference and routed The Dalles 88-43 Tuesday night. South finished third in the Mid-Willamette Conference.
In the 11-year history of 5A, South is 0-3 in the state round of 16.
“This place has never been there and now we’ve matched the most wins in school history,” Rebels coach Justin Smith said. “To get over that hump if we can win this last one and get to Gill would be pretty special.
“You can see the buzz around the community right now. It’s pretty exciting to walk out and see all the people here. And like I told (the team), they ain’t seen nothing yet. They are really going to come out on Friday and as we continue on here throughout the season we’ve continued to grow our fan base. This is a pretty special group and hopefully we can finish it off.”
Junior wing Jake Costello paced the Rebels with 11 points while Guilford added 10, including three second-quarter 3-pointers. Teammates Tyler Anderson and Kyle Miller scored seven apiece.
McKane Ellis led the way with nine points for the Grizzlies (8-17), who finished sixth in the Midwestern League. Ellis (6-foot-6) and Jake Hansen (6-5) were the anchors of Ashland’s zone defense.
“We didn’t shoot the ball real well and a lot of that had to do with them,” Smith said. “We missed some stuff that we normally wouldn’t have and their bigs down below contested some stuff, too.”
While its shots weren’t dropping, South played sound team defense and held Ashland to just 25 points through three quarters.
The undersized Rebels also limited second-chance points by crashing the boards.
“No matter what, even if you can’t hit shots there’s always something else you can do to help them team,” Guilford said. “I thought we did a good job rebounding in the zone and definitely did a good job with our defense.”
Ashland scored the first points of the third to get within 28-20. Buckets from Seth Cullison and Costello helped South take a 35-25 lead into the final period.
An Adam Jones 3 cut it to 35-28 with 6:50 remaining, but consecutive driving baskets from Costello and Anderson regained control for South at 39-28.
The Rebels led by no fewer than eight the rest of the way. The final margin could've been greater, but South was just 6 of 11 from the line in the fourth.
Tanner Hemzacek put the Rebels up 4-2 early with a close-range bucket. A Carson Mlsna 3 and Costello layin extended it to 9-4, prompting Ashland to burn a timeout.
South led 9-6 after a defensive-oriented first period.
The offense picked up in the second as a foul shots from Hemzacek and a Guilford triple gave the hosts a little cushion at 14-8. Consecutive 3s from Mlsna and Guilford made it 20-10, and a Cullison putback put South up 28-15.
The Rebels led 28-18 at the break.