PREPS: Defensive work pushes Jefferson into 6A boys final
For all of the wow moments the Jefferson Democrats create with the basketball in their hands, it was their work without it on Friday that earned them a shot at a championship.
The top-seeded Democrats used tenacious half-court defense and fought off every challenge from the fourth-seeded Beaverton Beavers for a 63-54 semifinal win at the Oregon School Activities Association Class 6A boys basketball tournament.
The Democrats (25-1) will play third-seeded Clackamas (24-4) for the state title at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at Chiles Center. Clackamas beat West Linn 78-71 in the second semifinal, ending the Lions' chase of a fifth consecutive title.
Jefferson beat Clackamas 80-54 in December, but the Cavaliers have not lost since.
In Friday's semifinal, Jefferson's quickness on defense forced Beaverton into 18 turnovers, and the Beavers' 40-percent shooting included 4-for-20 from 3-point distance.
The Democrats led by four points after one quarter, by five at the half and by four at the end of three. But except for an early 7-2 lead, the Beavers could never quite catch the Portland Interscholastic League champions.
Geno West led Jefferson with 18 points, and made a point of attacking the rim in the second half.
Kamaka Hepa was a difference maker with 15 points, nine rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and several more shots changed.
Marcus Tsohonis chipped in 13 points, four assists and four rebounds, hitting a couple early 3-pointers to put the Demos up to stay.
But it was the half-court defensive work that allowed all that to matter. Jefferson had a 20-12 advantage in points off turnovers, though only four of those were on the fast-break.
Robert Ford made Beaverton's Jake Estep work for his 15 points, and Thomas Miles had three of Jefferson's nine steals.
Ford has known Estep for years and said he enjoyed the challenge.
"He's a good player. He can shoot. He can drive. He can pretty much do everything," Ford said.
"It was just to deny him the ball as much as possible and not let him get it," Ford said.
A strong after-halftime team all season, it was stronger rebounding that allowed Jefferson to maintain a lead throughout this second half. Beaverton had seven offensive rebounds in the first half and a 5-0 advantage on second-chance points. In the second half, the Democrats scored eight second-chance points and limited Beaverton to two.
"The only person that really rebounded in the first half was Kamaka (Hepa), I think," Ford said. "We executed on defense in the third quarter. We said the offensive side would come. The defense, we had to pick it up."
Each time the Beavers crept within shouting distance, the Democrats answered. Midway through the third quarter, a 7-0 spurt that included five West points pushed the lead to nine.
After Beaverton's Hunter Sweet scored on a drive (his only points of the game) to pull the Beavers within three with seven minutes to play, Ford delivered a 3-pointer from the top of the key to spark an 11-3 spurt that effectively sealed the win.
"I just knew it was going in when I shot it," Ford said. "It was just a great feeling. I've got a lot of great teammates around me. I feel really good about this year."
That final Jefferson burst put the Demos up 12 midway throuth the fourth quarter. It included a fast-break basket for West off a feed from Tsohonis, a layup for Miles off a Hepa feed, and a 3-pointer from Hepa.