The South Eugene Axemen squandered control of their own destiny for the Special District 2 conference championship title in their 60-62 loss to the Thurston Colts at home on Tuesday night. The Colts took an early lead and fended off quarterly Axemen comebacks to secure a victory in the final seconds.
Thurston senior F Bendin Quinn delivered a sensational performance, scoring 23 points on 11-14 shooting. The Axemen simply couldn’t keep track of Quinn, whose teammates incessantly found him in the paint, where he finished with surgeon-like precision.
“He’s good. When he’s patient he actually gets more. He took some good shots and made some big plays. I’m really proud of him,” Thurston head coach Doug Piquette said.
South Eugene won the turnover battle 17-11 and grabbed nine more offensive rebounds than Thurston, but struggled mightily to put the ball through the nylon early, and couldn’t cover their tracks later on.
In fact, the Colts played their best basketball in the first few minutes of the game. They moved the ball with seamless-precision and shot the ball proficiently while containing the Axemen on the other end. Thurston took a 21-9 lead at the end of the first quarter.
“Any time you play catchup you use up a lot more energy. We’re not a team built for a lot of full court stuff. So that limits what we can do because we can’t dictate tempo,” South Eugene head coach Don Brown said.
Despite going on a 6-0 run early in the second quarter, South Eugene couldn’t sustain momentum. The Axemen fell into a scoring drought and only managed to accumulate two more points the rest of the quarter after their initial run.
In fact, Quinn scored 18 first half points compared to just 17 for South Eugene. Thurston led 30-17 at halftime.
Arguably the Axemen’s two best players, PG Mason Green-Richards and F Eli Lininger, only combined to score six first half points, but stepped up and ignited multiple Axemen runs in half two.
The Axemen played with controlled tenacity in the second half and scored 13 points in the first three minutes of the third quarter. After cutting the lead to two and with Colts Star Quinn resting on the pine, it looked like South Eugene was going to take their first lead of the game.
“We attacked the basket better. In the first half we settled for jump shots and didn’t go to the basket very hard,” Brown said.
“Where we get in trouble is when we either turn the ball over or take a bad shot and they come down and cash in,” Piquette added.
However, F Carson Cook proved Thurston to be more than a one trick pony. Cook knocked down five open jumpers in the second half and finished the game with 18 points. The Colts went on a 13-0 run and finished the quarter up 47-37.
Green-Richards and Lininger scored 16 points a piece on the night and led yet another comeback that brought the Thurston lead to just two with seven seconds remaining. However, they were forced to send Carson to the free-throw line. Carson’s shooting stroke didn’t fail him, and with a four point deficit, time simply ran out for the Axemen.
“It shows we’ve grown. Thurston played well enough to beat us by 30. Our mental toughness is getting better, but we need that mental toughness to lead us going into the game rather than during the game,” Brown said.
“Too many people made mental errors, but hey that’s a big win for us on the road. We’ve won here once or twice in the last ten years, so that’s a big deal for us,” Piquette added.
At 4-3 in conference, South Eugene would have to defeat Grant in Portland on Friday and Sheldon must lose to Willamette at home for the Irish to potentially have to share the conference title with the Axemen. Though South Eugene is in a bit of a hole, considering Willamette’s victory over Thurston earlier this year, Brown doesn’t consider their title hopes to be buried quite yet.
‘We’ve got another bite at the cherry for a conference championship. We go up to Grant on the road to see what we’re made of. Maybe that is the kind of challenge that we need right now.”