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Madras keeps pace with first-place Gladstone after beating Crook County, Molalla.

LON AUSTIN/FOR THE PIONEER - Chad Thurby drives around a Crook County defender during a Jan. 30 game in Prineville.
The phrase, "We're taking it one game at a time," is one of, if not the, biggest clichés in all of sports. Coaches, and sometimes players, use it in order to avoid looking too far ahead, and keep their focus on the current opponent.

However, certain games carry higher stakes than others, especially in high school sports once league play begins. Those ones can't be overlooked.

The Madras boys basketball team drew one of those especially important ones last Tuesday, Jan. 30, at Crook County.

In a matchup of the second- and third-place teams in the Tri-Valley Conference standings, Madras held on for an 82-73 victory, and kept pace with first-place Gladstone.

Afterward, the White Buffalos made clear how important the win was, with four league games remaining over the next two weeks.

"Both teams were playing for something tonight," Madras head coach Evan Brown said following the Buffs' win over Crook County Jan. 30. "If you had any aspirations of winning the league title, you needed to win this game tonight in order to somewhat keep pace."

Gladstone is the team to beat in the TVC for Madras. The Gladiators, currently 6-0 in league, dealt the Buffs their only league loss so far by a 74-65 margin on Jan. 23. Madras will get another crack at Gladstone at home on Tuesday, Feb. 13.

But before the Buffs turn their attention to that game, they first have a road game at Estacada Friday. Madras blew out Estacada at home by an 85-50 margin Jan. 19.

Their most recent outing against Crook County was a little closer. The Buffs surged in the third quarter, opening up a 23-point lead in the third quarter. Their lightning quick offense led to 15 deep balls, which came from seven different players.

What seemed like an insurmountable, 20-point lead entering the fourth quarter briefly went south for the Buffs. Crook County heated up offensively, and cut the Madras lead to five, 73-68, with 2:20 remaining.

LON AUSTIN/FOR THE PIONEER - Madras' Kanim Smith (44) was a load for Crook County to stop Jan 30. He poured in 20 points to go along with 13 boards and five steals.
"The way we play, it's a game of streaks," Brown said. "We are going to put up big numbers in a hurry at certain points of time. What we have got to do is limit those big streaks by our opponents."

Smith led all scorers with 20 points, to go along with 13 rebounds and five steals, while Byron Patt finished with 16. Cash Reese and Tyler Lockey also reached double figures with 11 and 10 points, respectively.

While the win was an important one for the Buffs, it was a reminder, once again, that they have more improvements to make. The streaky Madras offense has mostly been in its favor lately, but when it drops off, the Buffs are looking to make strides on the defensive end, to avoid letting teams back into games, as was the case against the Cowboys.

"If we are going to be a postseason-type of team, we've got some work to do," Brown said. "We've got to tighten some things up and some of that tightening up is between our ears and understanding the time and situation and then composure."

If the Buffs can take care of business this week on the road, the following Tuesday game against Gladstone could potentially dictate which team wins a league title. Madras sits one game back of Gladstone, and Crook County trails Madras by one game.

With all six teams in the TVC having records below .500, none of them is likely to have a high RPI ranking, which helps determine seeding in the postseason.

That makes it all the more important for Madras to keep winning, in order to contend for the playoffs.

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