After almost upsetting the league leader and a road loss, the Madras boys' basketball team remains in the big pack.
The White Buffalos are one of seven teams seeking three of the Intermountain Conference playoff spots. The IMC has four, but unbeaten Hermiston has realistically clinched one of those spots.
The Bulldogs' unbeaten streak includes a 91-90 victory at Madras (on Tuesday, Jan. 22). Hermiston scored the winning basket at the buzzer after the Buffs rallied from being down 21 points in the first quarter. Madras also fell at Bend (92-83 on Friday) in a game postponed from earlier this month.
"Since Hermiston is running away with it, the second-place team (Pendleton) has three losses," Madras coach Allen Hair said. "We still control our own destiny when we start the second half of the league season. We play everybody again. We've got to win those games we're supposed to if we're going to reach our goal of the (state) playoffs."
The Buffs' need-to-win stretch actually started early this week with a trip to Summit (on Tuesday, Jan. 29, played after press time). Madras starts the second-half of the IMC season by hosting Mountain View this Saturday.
Bend 92, Madras 83: The Buffs fell behind by 16 points in the first quarter, but were in position to go ahead early in the fourth quarter.
The Lava Bears scored the first eight points on layups by breaking Madras' press.
"Bend attacked our press very well," Hair said. "They were ready to play and we weren't. We weren't getting the pressure on the ball we needed, so they were able to make easy passes."
Bend capped a stellar first quarter with Tyler Fristedt draining a 3-pointer at the buzzer. It was part of Fristedt scoring 20 points in the quarter. His previous game high this season was 27 against The Dalles-Wahtonka (on Jan. 18 in a 53-52 loss).
Bend came into the game averaging just 51.6 points in its opening five IMC games (going 1-4). The Lava Bears were nearly at that by halftime, leading 49-39. Fristedt had 25 of those points, hitting 11 of 13 shots from the field. As a team, Bend hit 67 percent (22 of 33).
The Buffs scored the final five points of the half to move within 10. Darrell Ceciliani scored three of those on a driving layup while being fouled. He converted the free throw. Robert Main added a two-footer for the final points of the half.
That rally was part of Madras' 25-point second quarter. The Buffs' points came despite hitting just a pair of treys (going 3 of 15 in the half).
"Teams in the IMC know we shoot 3s, so they're out challenging our shooters," Hair said. "We have to depend on penetrating to the basket. Both Darrell (Ceciliani) and Austin (Say) are adjusting their games to get into the lane. That's opening it up for us."
Ceciliani led the second-half rally, scoring 14 of his team-high 21 points after halftime. Say added eight of his 11.
Ceciliani was part of a 5-0 spurt to move the Buffs to 74-72 with 6:45 left. Ceciliani drained a trey just after Main had a layup off a steal.
Then the scoring stopped. Madras went more than two minutes without a basket, missing four shots to go along with a couple of turnovers.
"We took some ill-advised shots, and then got down on our dobbers a bit," Hair said.
Bend also missed three shots. Then Fristedt went to work, scoring a layup and hitting a five-footer. The hosts were up by seven when Madras scored again on a Ceciliani layup.
Fristedt had help in the second half from fellow Bend post Drew Sampson. The 6-foot-5 senior scored 16 of his 22 in the second half.
Four Buffs scored in double figures including Main with 14 and Albert Adams with 10.
Hermiston 91, Madras 90: There's out standing on the court as the Buffs did in the first quarter. Then there's outstanding on the court as Madras did after that.
Madras fell behind 11-0 and 27-6 in the first quarter against the IMC leaders. After that, the Buffs rallied to catch up and go ahead. A last-second layup spoiled the marvelous comeback.
The Bulldogs, unbeaten in IMC play coming to Madras, spent the first quarter scoring layup after layup for 31 points.
"I called two timeouts in the first quarter, telling the guys `we can fold our tent and watch them score 105 on us. Or we can go out and compete,'" Hair said. "The guys went out and got after it."
How does a team rally from so far down against fifth-ranked Hermiston (according to the 5A coaches' poll of Jan. 24)?
"We started making a few shots," Albert Adams said. "We came out a little scared I guess. Then, when we started making shots; we got back into the game."
Adams was a big part, draining a trey and then an 18-footer to start the comeback. By halftime, the Buff offense had 38 points with 10 each from Darrell Ceciliani and C.J. Easterling.
"Madras' penetration really hurt us," Hermiston coach Larry Usher said. "We couldn't get in front of Ceciliani. Then we couldn't stop Easterling down low. That allowed their outside shooters to get open shots."
The Buffs were within 12 at half (50-38). That deficit was just three when the third quarter ended (65-62).
"Give Madras a lot of credit," Usher said. "They keep playing their style, knowing the other team will start playing their way. It's inevitable. For us, we started missing some shots, making turnovers and getting tired."
Madras pulled even a minute into the fourth quarter on Ceciliani's trey. The teams traded leads. The Buffs used a trey by Robert Main plus four consecutive points by Ceciliani on a layup off a steal and then two free throws countered Hermiston baskets. Ceciliani finished with 20 points. An Easterling layup put the Buffs ahead (82-81).
"This would have been a great game to watch in the stands," Usher said. "This was a great game with two teams trying to impose their wills on each other. We did for 16 minutes and 4 seconds. Madras did for 15 minutes and 56 seconds."
A trio of free throws expanded that lead. Main hit two and Austin Say hit one for an 85-81 lead with two minutes left.
Madras also missed a couple of treys and fouled the Bulldogs three times. Hermiston went ahead by making three free throws and a layup.
"Those 3s are part of our offense," the Madras coach said. "If we hit either of those, we're up by seven instead of four and it's a different game. Yes, we did commit some silly fouls which we needed to stay away from when we're ahead."
The teams traded layups in the final minute. Easterling converted one with 21 seconds for the last of his career-high 24 points.
"C.J. had a great game. He kept getting himself open so we could get the ball to him," Adams said.
Hermiston answered with 15 seconds left, and hit a subsequent foul shot for an 89-87 lead. Adams answered with a trey, part of his 21-point game.
That gave Hermiston 4.5 seconds to make up a 90-89 deficit. After timeouts by both teams, Hermiston drew a long pass to Sam Grogan for a driving layup. It was the last of Grogan's 35 points.
"The final play was just how we designed it," Usher said. "When Madras lined up before they called timeout, we noticed they were covering the wings hard. So, we knew if we set a good screen, we'd have a guy open. Sam (Grogan) was who we wanted to take our last shot."
Notes: Madras will be without junior Josh Roth for the rest of the season due to torn ligaments in his right ankle. The Buffs' tallest player (6-3) hurt his ankle in the first half at Mountain View (on Jan. 19). "I was sliding along the floor and I rolled my ankle," Roth said. "I'm in a hard cast for three weeks, then we'll see if I'll be doing rehab or need surgery." To replace Roth, junior Victor Switzler moved into Roth's five-man shift. On defense, Terence Wolfe (6-0) moves inside to defend posts.