Jefferson got some tournament-level experience this week just in time for the Les Schwab Invitational, which runs through Sunday at the University of Portland's Chiles Center.
Visiting Jefferson upended Benson 87-79 in overtime in a wild game Tuesday. The Democrats scored the final 14 points to improve to 3-0 for the season, 2-0 in the PIL.
The Demos, who won their first two games by an average of 48 points, trailed by as many as 10 in the first half and were headed for a loss until sophomore Lathen Wallace made a halfcourt shot at the buzzer to force overtime.
'That was a game we really needed,' Jeff coach Marshall Haskins says. 'We have so many young guys, we need as many close games as we can get.'
Jefferson, with just four seniors in its regular playing rotation, struggled to find a way to beat Benson. The Techmen, who have six seniors in their rotation, closed the game with a 23-10 edge in offensive rebounds and committed just 17 turnovers during regulation time. But Jefferson forced six turnovers in the four-minute OT.
The lead changed hands 15 times.
'This was a great game for us because we have a lot of guys with talent, but they don't have a lot of big-game experience,' Jefferson senior Anthony Atherton said. 'This was a big win.'
Haskins says he would have been happy with his team's play even if Wallace's last-second shot had missed.
'I felt we dominated a lot of the second half,' he says. 'So, yeah, I would have been happy even if we had lost because we made some big strides.'
The teams meet again Jan. 30 at Jefferson.
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Atherton says he's doing what he can to be a senior leader on a Jeff team that includes five sophomores and four juniors.
'I try to keep everyone focused on what they're supposed to be doing when we're on the court,' he says. 'And I try to keep everyone on track when we're at school. We have a study hall every day, and I make sure guys are going. And I try to model good behavior so they have someone to look up to.'
Atherton says the seniors haven't put undue pressure on the younger players to win the state title this season.
'I don't see it as being my year because I'm a senior,' he says. 'It's our year as a team. If we win, that's great, but we're all still going to be playing next year in some form, so we're all growing together.'
Senior Bayo Arigibon and junior Brian Morris form a significant inside tandem for the Demos, who also have a wealth of 3-point shooters led by Mac Hopson, Cedric Burton and Wallace.
Benson, meanwhile, showed that it should be considered a contender for the PIL title, not just a state playoff berth Ñ if for no other reason than its impressive desire to grab offensive rebounds.
A pair of key PIL games are set for tonight: Grant at Franklin and Wilson at Benson. With Jefferson and Lincoln seemingly set apart from the rest of the league in terms of ability, Benson, Franklin, Grant and Wilson are left to duke it out for the remaining two state playoff berths.
Benson, Franklin, Jefferson and Roosevelt are set to play four teams from the Seattle school district, Dec. 26 and 27, in a now annual series of games between Portland and Seattle. All four games will be played at Jefferson, Dec. 27, beginning at 3 p.m.
Grant rolled through a dual meet with Jefferson on Wednesday, winning 74-14 against its neighborhood rival. Two of the Generals remained unbeaten.
Spenser Tangman, a 171-pound senior, and Paul Miles, a 160-pound junior, both have yet to lose this season heading into a 10-team tournament Saturday at Glencoe.
The Generals also return junior Jon Christian, who won the PIL title at 103 last year but has moved up to 125, and sophomore Jeremy West, who is 8-1 at 112 pounds.
Grant coach Karry Cameron says the Glencoe tournament will be a big event for this team, especially his two unbeaten wrestlers.
'We're going to see some tough competition there,' he says. 'We'll see what our guys have, which will give us an idea of what they can do at the state level.'
Jefferson has a pair of district title contenders as well, Barry Hunt at 125 pounds and Lamar Franklin at 152.