PHILOMATH — Tuesday evening's game against North Marion was a big one for the Philomath boys basketball team.
A slow start left the Warriors at 0-2 and wallowing near the bottom of the Oregon West Conference. Meanwhile, the Huskies were undefeated in the OWC and at the top of the standings.
Senior PHS guard Nolan Jackson knew that a win would get the Warriors right back into the thick of the race.
"Before the game I told the guys that this is probably the biggest game of the year so far just because we dropped the first two in league," Jackson said.
Jackson and the Warriors came out strong and took a 74-68 win at PHS.
The Warriors are now 8-7 overall and 1-2 in the OWC.
"It was a big win for us," PHS coach Blake Ecker said. "We feel like we have to hold home court and so that was our concentration, is get one at a time. Let's get this one, OK, now let's focus on Cascade."
The Warriors established their defense early, putting pressure on the North Marion ballhandlers and plugging the pass lanes.
Philomath was able to force some turnovers and turn them into points.
The Warriors got several putbacks by going after offensive rebounds.
Toby Stueve provided a spark in the first quarter with a couple of baskets and by amping up the pressure on defense.
"We did a pretty good job defensively of creating some turnovers, when we weren't in foul trouble," Ecker said. "We really had a foul issue that second quarter and North Marion shot 15 foul shots in that second quarter alone, so that really hurt us. Having to limit playing time with certain individuals, and fortunately we battled through that and didn't have as much of a problem in the second half to be able to hang in there."
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The Warriors were able to use their defensive pressure to keep the Huskies off-balance for most of the game.
North Marion was unable to get consistent offense from 6-foot-8 post Trevor Ensign and had to rely on hoisting up long-range shots.
"We try to get out in transition and get steals in our 1-3-1, get out and finish on the break," Jackson said. "And that's what we kind of pride ourselves on and I think we did a great job tonight. A lot of energy, a lot of fire."
That style of play resulted in a 39-31 halftime lead, which the Warriors pushed to 50-37 in the third before the Huskies cut into it thanks to two 3-pointers by Grant Henry.
Henry dropped in seven 3s for the game and finished with 30 points.
"We were pretty strong down in the post," Jackson said. "It was just that (Henry). He was hitting all the 3s. That's probably our biggest focal point this year, is getting out on shooters, running them off the line."
But it was the play of Jackson that sparked the Warriors in the second half. Jackson took the ball to the basket for scores or found the open man for easy buckets.
The Philomath lead grew to 68-52 in the fourth before the Huskies put together a too-little, too-late charge to end the game.
"Late in the game we were trying to close the game out, so I was trying to get everybody involved, trying to get everybody touches," Jackson said. "The two bigs, Kenan (Conner) and Marshall (Brattain), finished down low when I was passing them the ball and Tyler (Pfarrer) and Calvin (Snuggerud) did a great job of handling the pressure bringing it up."
Jackson finished with 28 points to lead the Warriors.
"I thought he did a great job tonight. I thought he did a great job of making everybody better on this team," Ecker said. "Brought some assists, rebounding, defending at the end and some steals. So good all-around game. I was really proud of him. He really stepped it up."