South Salem’s R. Joseph Carey (5) drives past North Salem’s Alex Roberts (12) in the first half of the North Salem vs. South Salem boy’s basketball game at South Salem High School on Tuesday, Jan. 20, 2015. South Salem won the game 65-32.
Gabe Matthews, South Salem High school’s 6-foot-2 junior post, doesn’t seek attention, or even want it, but it comes anyway.
With No. 9-ranked South Salem holding a slight 14-12 lead Tuesday against North Salem, Matthews completed three-point plays on consecutive plays to key a 15-0 run, and the Saxons used that momentum for a 65-32 home Greater Valley Conference win.
When Matthews, who often is undersized against 6A posts, makes those kinds of aggressive plays at the basket, it opens up the game and lets South Salem stretch the floor.
“I think it means a lot to us,” said senior Seth Erickson about Matthews. “We can feed it inside to him to finish, or he’ll have a double, triple team, kick it out to us, and that’s when we make our threes is when we either drive, kick or feed it to the post and kick it back out.
“I think early on we tried to just pass it around and get a 3 up. When we pass it inside or drive inside than kick it, that’s when we get the good shots. He can either score inside or shoot it out.”
The South Salem team (7-1 GVC, 13-3 overall) that placed third in the state last year isn’t where it was a year ago in terms of record.
But the Saxons are in came into Tuesday’s game No. 9 in the OSAA’s power rankings and if the team can keep their four-game winning streak going, it can go into the postseason in the best position of any team in the GVC, even ahead of a McNary team that beat it earlier this season.
“A big difference for us this year is last year we won 26 straight playing really weak teams in non-conference, and didn’t really see a test until that quarterfinal, semifinal game at state,” said senior Connor Fohn, who scored 11 points.
“Way different this year at the Les Schwab and then obviously coming home and seeing McNary. It’s been a different year. It’s a lot of adversity early, but I’d rather see it now and know what to expect than to see it down the road.”
North Salem (1-6 GVC, 1-14 overall) had a solid strategy against South Salem.
The Vikings spread the floor early on offense and stopped the Saxons’ transition game by getting back well on defense and led 4-0 – with all four points coming from Caleb Roberts – over four minutes into the game.
“Teams prepare and they give us a little more effort,” South Salem coach Tyler Allen said. “If we can stay the course, there’s no need to panic.
“We’re mentally conditioned, physically conditioned enough that if we stay with the systems, the openings will then create themselves and then hopefully the distance will be created. So they came out very strong, credit to their coach, got them ready, got them believing.”
The Saxons have too many shooters to be held down for long.
South Salem took the lead for good on Matthews’ and-one baskets, and it freed up South Salem’s perimeter players to spot the team a 31-17 lead at halftime.
“Seth, Connor, Jack (Frazier), Rey (Ruiz), any of those shooters start knocking down shots, it opens up the middle for me and I can get good looks, especially when they drive because they attract a bunch of defenders to them, and then I get easy looks from them so it’s technically all them,” said Matthews, who finished with 11 points.
Frazier finished with 13 points and Erickson scored 12. North Salem freshman Gavin Baughman scored 13 – including three 3-pointers – to lead the Vikings.
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