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Southridge boys basketball enjoys strong first quarter against No. 2 team in the United States

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior Bradley Bickler blocks a shot in the first quarter of the Les Schwab Invitational against Oak Hill Academy.

Out of the corner of his left eye, Southridge's Brock Henry spotted an oncoming David McCormick moving at full speed from the half court line in hot pursuit of the Skyhawk sharpshooter.

At 6-foot-10, 260 pounds, McCormick is the starting center for Oak Hill Academy, a Virginia prep basketball factory that's one of the best programs in the nation. McCormick is a teenager by birth certificate only. Everything else about him physically screams grown man going on 10-year NBA veteran. This is a guy who cut open his shooting elbow by violently smashing it against the backboard trying to reject a shot. McCormick, like many of his Oak Hill teammates, is a physical specimen you don't see often on the Oregon high school basketball scene.

Henry could've pulled up for three, stepped back away from the Warrior big for a cleaner, safer look. After all, the junior had already buried a trio of treys in the first quarter to begin what would end up being a breakout individual performance. A heat check triple would've been acceptable. Southridge, following a rickety start of turnovers and fouls, went shot for shot with Oak Hill in the first frame of the Les Schwab Invitational quarterfinals and trailed just 29-23.

But rather than settle, Henry attacked. One right-handed dribble later, Henry exploded off his left foot toward the rim as McCormick sprung out his sprint to meet the Skyhawk at the summit.

Henry, with the ball cuffed in his right hand, unfurled a hellacious dunk attempt that hit the back of the rim as McCormick got a slight piece of the rock. The mid-air meeting and near posterization of the Kansas commit sent the LSI crowd into a delirium. The local team, backed by throngs of supporters from around the area, had the mass's full attention.

Eventually, Oak Hill's ethereal talent took over completely. McCormick and his future Division One teammates who are headed for Oregon, Florida, Kansas and Kentucky put on a high-flying pyrotechnic display of power and grace en route to a 94-53 win on Dec. 28 at Liberty High School.

Henry's zenith, however, punctuated a message that started in the first quarter. It was emblematic of Southridge's approach. Was Oak Hill more gifted athletically and physically than the Skyhawks? Sure. But Southridge didn't get pushed around by the No. 2 team in the United States and they certainly weren't punked.

"We're not scared of anybody," Southridge senior wing Jared Ebanks said. "We don't look up to anybody. We don't look down to anybody. We just play the same each day and we'll play anybody. That's something (head coach Phil) Vesel preaches every day. We pick each other up. We're playing to win every possession, every game and play as hard as we can."

Southridge entered the game as the tournament's dark horse, without its centerpiece Filip Fullerton who missed the game due to mononucleosis. And after Jefferson and Grant punched their tickets to the LSI semifinals on Friday night with impressive wins over Beaverton and Crespi (CA), the two PIL powers likely will commandeer the state title conversation until the Class 6A state tournament in March. But Southridge should be considered in the upper crest of state contenders. First quarter uproars like the one the Skyhawks mounted against Oak Hill most definitely put Jefferson and Grant on notice and proved Southridge's "A" game is capable of testing the best.

"We have a chip on our shoulder as a program and a school," Henry said. "We've never won a Metro title, so we're trying to come out and fight every single game and prove to people that this is a unique Southridge team. We want to prove that maybe we're ready for that Metro title or can go down to the state championship and win it all."

Oak Hill threw a knockout punch early in the first quarter, slamming home a trio of highlight reel dunks while forcing three turnovers and causing three Skyhawk fouls in the first three minutes to grab an early 8-0 lead. A lot of teams would've succumbed to the haymaker, hit the canvas and let the referee count to ten. But Southridge took the chin music and rearranged itself. Vesel inserted Ebanks off the bench, who immediately banged two three-pointers without the slightest inkling of hesitation. Asked to provide firepower and a self-assured presence off the pine, Ebanks did both and helped stave off the early rout with his right-handed outside touch.

"I worked on my shot the entire summer and really for my whole life, so it was good to show that off, but teammates found me," Ebanks said. "When we pass and hit shots we play well. Vesel always says you gotta be ready to play off the bench, so I knew I had to be prepared. We were playing hard for each other."

Then Southridge senior guard Bo Quinlan pierced Oak Hill's perimeter defense and passed out to Henry, who hit his first three of the game to bring Southridge within 14-9 midway through the first frame. Henry — who Vesel said before the season could have a huge individual year — was only starting to heat up. The junior twisted a sweet righty reverse home amongst the Warrior trees inside along the baseline. A few plays later Henry stared down a squatting McCormick and buried an NBA-range three in his mug. And Quinlan came back and on the next trip down and sprayed a deep left wing three to bring Southridge within 19-17. McCormick, Keldon Johnson and Keyontae Johnson look like they could start for almost any D1 school in the country, not next year, but right now. Will Richardson is a smooth lefty with quick hands and great defensive instincts. Oak Hill can overwhelm teams with its talent. But, for a quarter, Southridge went right at the Warrriors' throats, playing assertively and without doubt.

"We had nothing to lose," Henry said. "People weren't expecting us to win this, so we just wanted to go show out for the home crowd. We not only wanted to be aggressive with our shots but try to match their physicality. All of those dudes are huge. They're men. So, we had to step up and say 'We can't just cower away.' We had to step up and fight back."

Ebanks bombed another three, this time from the left corner, and Henry, feeling more and more comfortable against Oak Hill's athletes, hit another three from the left wing to pull Southridge within 25-23. Oak Hill led 29-23 at the end of one, but Henry, Ebanks and Quinlan came out of the gate scalding, hitting a combined six threes in first eight minutes of action, matching the Warriors' dunk contest with an outside arsenal of bombs from deep on the other end.

"We showed what we can do," Ebanks said. "We were not worried about what was ahead of us, just right now. We want to grow as a team, get guys involved, play great offense and defense. We've always been confident, we're just going to keep playing harder and that confidence will build."

TIMES PHOTO: MATT SINGLEDECKER - Southridge senior Bo Quinlan hoists a three-pointer against Oak Hill Academy in the second round of the Les Schwab Invitational.

Henry had 11 of his team-high 16 points in the first quarter alone. For most of his teammates, playing Oak Hill was a once-in-a-playing career experience. But Henry played like he wanted another shot at the Johnsons somewhere down the line at the collegiate level. In the second quarter, Henry ran off an Iverson screen along the baseline, ripped the ball from the right side to the left, took a left-handed dribble toward the baseline and spun home a sick right-handed reverse.

"I think a lot of people saw us as underdogs and I kind of view myself as an underdog, too," Henry said. "Going up against those guys, you know they're taller, bigger, stronger. But sometimes it comes down to skill and I wanted to show that. It was special for me."

The blistering team-wide start couldn't be sustained on Southridge's behalf. Bradley Bickler and Zach Galvin both had putbacks inside in the second quarter, but Oak Hill opened a 49-30 halftime lead. And the Warriors turned the screws down defensively, holding Southridge to just four more threes the rest of the way. After the hot beginning, the Skyhawks shot 17 percent in the second and third quarters. At the same time, both Johnsons, McCormick and the rest of the Warrior freak athletes put on a spectacle for the crowd, turning turnovers into rim-rattling dunks, rejections and high-powered drives to the cup. Henry hit a left-corner three and Galvin canned two treys in the third, but Keldon Johnson slammed home a windmill dunk just before the end of the quarter to give Oak Hill a 75-38 lead.

Henry finished the game with 16 points on 6-13 shooting including 4-8 from three. Galvin ended the game with 9 points and 4 boards. Ebanks finished with 11 points.

Southridge lost to Crespi (CA) and future Arizona point guard Brandon Williams in the fifth-place game of the LSI, but bounced back and beat Beaverton 65-61 on Dec. 29.

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