PORTLAND — Jefferson hit this year’s OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union 6A boys basketball tournament like a freight train Wednesday.
Grant just happened to be on the tracks when the Democrats arrived, and it wasn’t pretty for the Generals. Jeff finally took advantage of its biggest advantage over its ancient rival and pounded the Generals 87-68.
It could have been worse. At times, it was. The Democrats led by as many was 24 points in the second half.
On the way to the victory, the Democrats finally slammed the door on the last game of last season, when the Generals beat them for the championship on the same Chiles Center floor.
“We came out with a lot of energy tonight,” Jeff coach Pat Strickland said, relying once again on his go-to barometer. “In the back of our minds at the beginning — in the whole game, actually — was what happened last year.”
The victory sends the Democrats into the semifinals on Friday against South Salem.
The Democrats finally did the one thing they haven’t done on two other games against the Generals this year: Went right at Grant’s tiny front line with their two sophomore earth-movers, 6-7 Nate Rawlins-Kibonge and 6-8 Kamron Robinson.
Grant has nothing that matches that kind of strength. Strickland knew that the key to the game was the key on the court.
“The game plan was to go inside,” Strickland said. “We didn’t do that at Marshall (Grant’s temporary home this year, where the Generals won in January) or Jeff. Grant’s an excellent team, but they’re not big.”
The result was one of the most impressive stat lines of the season: Rawlins-Kibonge roared for 18 points, 17 rebounds and 7 blocked shots. Robinson followed with 18 points, 5 rebounds and two blocks of his own.
Between them and senior guard Marcus Tsohonis, who had 22 points, the Democrats dominated the game in the purple part of the floor. They scored 58 of their points in the key; Grant got only 38.
Jefferson (22-5) established its intent right out of the locker room with an 8-2 start — significantly, all eight points were from right in front of the basket. A pair of three-pointers and two Robinson free throws later, Jeff was up 16-4 and the rout was on.
This is Jeff-Grant, though, and neither ever goes away meekly for the other. The Generals’ splendid Vermont-bound senior guard, Aaron Deloney, and senior wing man Ty Rankin actually brought the Generals within telescope distance in the second quarter.
Two Deloney free throws got Grant to within 25-22 three minutes into the second quarter, and his steal and layup with 3:43 left had the Generals within 29-26.
Jefferson erupted for a 15-2 two tear that settled the game. Every point was at the rim — including the first of two frightening Rawlins-Kibonge slam dunks.
Grant might have kept the game a whole lot closer if they had been able to hit the three-pointers on which they rely. But they missed their first 17 before Deloney finally drained one midway through the fourth quarter. Deloney finished with a game-high 25 points, but most of them came off drives to the basket.
Ty Rankin got another three-pointer shortly after that. That was it. The Generals finished a horrible 2 of 23 from the arc.
“I like to think,” Strickland, “that our defense had something to do with Aaron being off tonight.”
Rawlins-Kibonge played down his big night.
“I just try to do what’s best for the team,” he said. “Obviously, Grant is smaller than we are, and if that’s what they needed from me, I was glad.
“I was pretty happy with the decision to go inside. I’ve never been big on scoring. I’ve normally been a defense and rebounding guy.
“But we just wanted to do what we had to do to get the W. It didn’t matter who we were playing.”
Tsohonis agreed that last year’s championship game — for which he was notoriously injured — was the motivation for the Democrats’ dominance.
“It sure felt like it,” he said. “We were thinking about last year a lot. The majority of the time.”
But it wasn’t personal. Whatever goes on between the two schools is in the stands, not on the court.
“Ty, Aaron and I are all best friends,” Tsohonis said. “We’ve been playing basketball with each other since the third and fourth grade.”
And Wednesday was the last time they’ll all face each other on the court.
So it’s settled. Until next year.