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The White Buffalos used a weekend tournament in Seaside (and some arcade games) as a way to build team camaraderie.

PMG PHOTO: ANDY DIECKHOFF - Madras sophomore Skytus Smith has joined up with Hekili Harry to give the White Buffalos a dangerous attack from beyond the arc. Smith hit a 3-pointer to force the first overtime in Madras' double-OT win over Astoria.The Madras boys basketball team turned a corner last weekend at the Seaside Holiday Classic.

The White Buffalos won two of three games at the three-day tournament, taking third place in the event.

"It was a lot of fun," said head coach Nick Brown. "We won the first one and the last one, and we competed against a really good Seaside team in the second one. So, it was a really, really fun weekend, for sure."

The Buffs took down Elma (Washington) High School in the opener on Thursday, Dec. 16, prevailing by a score of 51-41. In the Friday semi-final, Madras was beaten 55-35 by Seaside, which is entered this week ranked No. 3 in the 4A classification.

In the third-place game, the Buffs came back from a 16-point deficit against Astoria, and they sent the game to overtime on Skytus Smith's 3-point shot at the end of regulation.

Late in overtime, Madras' Hekili Harry hit a free throw to put the Buffs up 65-63, but Astoria's Trey Woodruff hit a shot to tie the game just before the buzzer. Harry was called for a foul on the shot, but Woodruff missed the free throw and the game went into a second overtime period at 65-all.

The Buffs and Fishermen traded 3-pointers at the start of the second OT, but those would be the last field goals of the contest.

Instead, Madras outscored Astoria 5-0 on the free throw line down the stretch, with Dru Boyle, Seneca Ball and Hekili Harry all hitting shots in big moments.

"Winning like that — we were down 16 at one point — it was a big comeback win for us, and just a big turning point," said Brown.

A few notches in the win column were not the only positive takeaway from the weekend, either.

"Just all of the team-building we did, and all of the time the guys spent together over the weekend, that was a big turning point," Brown added.

The team strikes a balance between experienced varsity players and others who may have come up playing JV together, but this singular unit is still learning to gel.

The squad is one step closer to reaching that goal after a weekend spent on the Oregon Coast staying under one roof — and enjoying some pizza and arcade games in downtown Seaside. Now that the Buffs are back home with some hardware, they have a little extra pep in their step.

"We had a blast doing that stuff," said Brown of the bonding experience. "They had no choice but to be together, and they loved every minute of it. Just so fun."

"It helps off the floor," he added, "but on the floor as well."

Following the tournament action on the coast, the Buffs are now 3-4 on the season overall. Only two of those losses came against teams at the 4A level, and both of those schools are ranked in the top 10 of the OSAA's computer rankings as of Monday, Dec. 20. A bit behind third-ranked Seaside, Woodburn checks in at No. 9. The other losses came to the same 5A school, Ridgeview, which is currently 6-1 overall and ranked No. 5 in the 5A classification.

Suffice it to say, Madras has played some pretty good teams to this point. In doing so, the team is starting to become pretty good itself.

Through seven games, sophomore point guard Seneca Ball leads the team in scoring with 16.7 points per game, followed by junior center Dru Boyle, who is scoring 10.3 points per game. Hekili Harry and Skytus Smith are both averaging just over eight points per contest.

Gunner Wallulatum and Wade Simmelink may not light up the scoreboard often, but both provide valuable minutes on the defensive end, which has earned them a place in the starting lineup.

"They're learning to play together and getting better each and every day," said Brown of the team.

Now, the Buffs turn their attention to the upcoming Sisters Holiday Shootout.

"We're not playing until the Sisters tournament next Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday," said Brown, referring to the event taking place Dec. 28-30 at Sisters High School. "It's going to be great to have four of five practices in between, because we just played for three days straight. We still have a lot of tape to look at and things to fix for the coming week. It's a good time to put in some new stuff on both sides of the floor and just get better at everything else we do. It will be a great opportunity to use these five days to get better."

Matchups are not yet final, but the other teams in the holiday tournament are Banks, Cottage Grove, Henley, Junction City, Marist Catholic, Mazama, and Sisters.

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