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Braves come up short against Junction City in nonleague tilt

Banks goes cold during the fourth quarter and the Tigers pull away for a 52-48 win

 - Banks junior Jake Evans gets bumped by Josh Hutchinson of Junction City on a drive to the basket during Saturday's nonleague game.In an evenly matched game, the small things make the difference — and on Saturday they undid the Banks boys basketball team.

Playing their second challenging opponent in four days, the Braves gave visiting Junction City everything it could handle in a tightly fought contest. But in the end, the Tigers made just a few more plays to pull out a 52-48 victory.

“This felt like a league game tonight, where it got physical and they were being disruptive with the defense,” Banks coach Marc Roche said. “We didn’t quite rise to the occasion tonight to respond to that. Just down the stretch, they made more plays than us.”

Banks dropped to 6-6 with the result, while Junction City moved to 9-3 overall and No. 5 in the OSAA’s Class 4A power rankings.

From partway through the first quarter on, neither team led by more than four points. The Braves held their last lead at 48-47 after Jake Evans drove to the basket with just more than two minutes remaining. But Banks went cold from there and Junction City closed out the game with five unanswered points.

“As a team, we started forcing shots and we didn’t really move the ball well,” said sophomore wing Dalton Renne, who scored seven points. “And we slowed it down, and our best thing is to run-and-gun.”

Josh Hutchinson put the Tigers ahead for good when he drilled a 3-pointer with 1:07 left and Isaac Potter knocked down two free throws with 26.4 seconds remaining to account for the final margin.

The Braves did get some decent looks inside the final two minutes but couldn’t convert.

“We just gotta learn to finish the game. We’re a young team but that’s no excuse,” Evans said. “We’ve played basketball forever. We know how to finish games. We’ll get it.”

That end score was the most breathing room either team had in a back-and-forth final stanza. Banks led 36-35 going into the final eight minutes, but Brandon Land sank a 3-pointer from the right corner to put Junction City up 38-36 with the first bucket of the quarter.

From there, the game featured two ties and five lead changes. Banks went on an 8-3 run when Renne knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner midway through the period. The lead went back to three points again at 46-43 on Casey McGough’s offensive putback about a minute later, but the visitors closed on a 9-2 run.

The Braves led 15-13 after one quarter thanks to a buzzer-beater, and they took a 30-26 advantage into the locker room at halftime.

Junction City went 7-for-8 from the free throw line, including 3-for-4 in the fourth quarter. Hayden Martinez paced the visitors with 19 points, Hutchinson scored 11 and Land added nine.

Evans led Banks with 16 points and McGough chipped in five. The team also welcomed the return of junior captain Zach Sly, who has been out of action the last several weeks with an injury. He scored four points.

Roche described the contest as a learning experience for his group, which overall is a little on the green side. The Braves haven’t been in too many close contests this season, so Saturday’s game gave them some things to work on going forward.

“I think overall our guys played really hard tonight. They competed in a lot of ways,” Roche noted. “It’s that sense of when the game’s getting tight and the other team’s really stepping up the intensity, how do you respond?

“And I think we did a lot of good things tonight but couldn’t quite respond in some of those situations to win this one tonight.”

Three days prior, Banks traveled to Philomath to take on the then-undefeated and top-ranked Warriors. The game was the teams’ second meeting in eight days, as Philomath (12-1) posted a 56-38 win over Banks at the Sisters Tournament on Dec. 29.

The rematch wound up much closer, though the Braves eventually fell 55-47. The Warriors jumped out to a 20-9 lead after one quarter, but Banks rallied and even took the lead before trailing 30-23 at the intermission. In the fourth quarter, the visitors were down by just two with about 90 seconds remaining, but Philomath went 11-for-15 from the free throw line in the period and was able to hold on for the win.

Evans led all players with 17 points and David Schorn scored 15 points.

For Philomath, Riley Davis and Austin Gerding put up 16 points apiece and Cal Stueve added 12.

“Philomath was a great effort. They were the No. 1 team at the time,” Roche said. “They’re one of the better teams in the state, for sure. We know that we can play against those guys. We’ve played some good teams around the state already and we know we can compete. We just need to put things together.”

Banks traveled to Corbett on Tuesday (results not available at press time), and will round out its nonleague schedule at home against Gladstone on Friday.