There are no easy victories in the Mid-Willamette Conference.
Despite leading by double figures the entire second half, the South Albany High boys basketball team never felt truly comfortable in Friday’s 58-46 home win over Central.
The Panthers (9-8, 5-3 league) continued to fight and trap to the very end, preventing the Rebels (14-2, 6-2) from coasting to victory.
“They were being physical with us there, trying to really get up in us. And we were just trying to get the game over with,” South coach Justin Smith said. “But they are physical and a really good basketball team, and that’s the reason they have the record they do.”
South, Central and Crescent Valley entered the day locked in a three-way tie for second in the MWC, a half game back of Corvallis.
Lebanon upset the Spartans (11-6, 6-3) Friday night while CV (11-6, 6-2) took down Dallas, leaving the Raiders and Rebels atop the MWC standings.
Junior swingman Jake Costello put up 18 points to lead South, which was returning home after a four-game road stretch. Jaden Guilford added 14 points while Carson Mlsna (nine) and Tanner Hemzacek (eight) also got into the mix.
“It felt really good to be home,” said senior guard Tyler Anderson, who added five points. “We have a lot more intensity at home. The crowd pumps us up and it’s just a great atmosphere.”
Peter Mason paced Central with 21 points. He was the lone Panther in double figures.
The Rebels led 32-20 at the break and went up 39-24 on free throws from Costello with 3:59 to play in the third quarter. The lead grew to 41-24 on a Hemzacek putback and 44-26 on a Mlsna 3-pointer.
Mason’s old-fashioned 3 cut it to 44-33, but Mlsna hit a triple on the other end to stop Central’s momentum. South led 47-33 after three.
The Rebels didn’t made a field goal in the final period but were 11 of 14 from the foul line. Guilford, a senior guard, made 7 of 8.
South, which is now 7-0 at home this year, hosts Silverton on Tuesday before traveling to Central for a makeup game next Friday. The first matchup between the Rebels and Panthers was snowed out.
Smith expects Central guard Peter Mendazona, who has missed the last couple of weeks with an ankle injury, to be available for the rematch.
“I’m sure he’ll be close to getting back if not back for their next game, so it’ll be a whole different ballgame up there,” Smith said. “There are some things I think they can take advantage of that we didn’t do very well in the second half. And I’m sure they will look at those.”
Added Anderson: “I expect them to try and do what they do best: slow the tempo down and if they get a lead they are going to hold the ball. But I don’t think that’s going to happen with us.”
Central wasn’t able to slow the Rebels down early Friday night.
A Hemzacek drive and finish with the left hand put the Rebels up for good at 4-2. Consecutive buckets from Costello and Guilford extended it 11-4 late in the opening quarter.
South led 14-8 after one and used an 8-0 run midway through the second to go up 28-16. Costello and Guilford each buried 3s during the scoring spurt.
Costello's rebound basket in the final seconds of the half made it 32-20.
The Rebels, who start three guards and undersized “forwards” Hemzacek (6-foot) and Costello (6-2), controlled the boards for most the night.
“We work on (rebounding) quite a bit and we emphasize it a lot,” Smith said. “And our kids our athletic. I understand that they are only 6-foot to 6-2, but probably our best offensive rebounder is Guilford, our 5-11 point guard. They all do a good job trying to get to the glass, and we’ve been very good so far rebounding.”