OREGON – All season long, Oregon boys basketball coach Quinn Virgil has been waiting for his team to put it all together: offensive flow, defensive pressure, winning 50-50 balls, hitting big shots.
The Hawks have been pointing to the postseason for the past month and a half, and they came out and played like it in Wednesday night's Class 2A Oregon Regional semifinal. Oregon controlled the tempo and never trailed after the first quarter, beating rival Byron 60-46 at the Blackhawk Center.
"Collectively, that's the best effort we've had all season," Virgil said. "We wanted to be playing our best basketball in the postseason, and we played very smart and very strong tonight."
Oregon assisted on 19 of 22 made field goals and held a 7-0 scoring advantage off turnovers. The Hawks had 10 steals and turned the ball over just 11 times, and shot 62 percent (18-for-29) from inside the 3-point arc. Five different Oregon players scored at least five points, and four had at least five rebounds, led by senior center Caleb Mowry's double-double (26 points, 10 rebounds).
"We took care of the ball, we hit big shots and we played excellent team defense," Mowry said. "When we all play to our strengths, and everybody does what they're supposed to do, we're a really good team … and our offense just flowed tonight."
The Hawks (15-13) took control early. Ian Holley's 3-pointer 3 minutes into the game sparked a 16-5 run to end the first quarter and start the second, and Oregon led 29-21 at halftime.
After Virgil warned his players during the break that the Tigers (13-13) wouldn't go away quietly, both teams responded to the challenge in the second half. The Hawks scored nine of the first 14 points of the third period to take a 38-26 lead, then Byron started chipping away.
Dalton Payton kept the Tigers in it, scoring 16 of his team-high 21 points after the break. His jumper and assist to Daniel Lowe (8 points, 6 rebounds) got Byron within 41-35 with 1:39 left in the third.
But Alex Cain hit a free throw, then Jessie McKinley Jr. turned Holden White's steal into a quarter-ending dunk to push the lead back to nine at 44-35.
"We talked at halftime about how Byron was going to go on a run and come after us," Virgil said, "but I thought we handled it really well. We never put our heads down and dwelled on the negatives, and we fought through some things and answered their run."
Cain and Mowry hit layups early in the fourth quarter for a 48-36 lead, then Mowry's elbow jumper on an inbounds play and his drive down the lane answered six straight points from Payton to extend the lead to 52-42 with 3:42 to play. Mowry, McKinley, Holley and Alec Ketter then hit 8 of 12 free throws down the stretch to seal the victory.
"We worked all week on attacking their zone, whether it was 1-3-1 or 2-3 or 1-2-2 or whatever," said McKinley, "and we ran our stuff really well. On defense, we doubled down on the post, had great help-side D, and didn't let Payton get free. It feels good, and it's a great way to start regionals."
McKinley had six points, nine assists, five rebounds and four steals for the Hawks, while White and Mowry each dished three assists; White also had three points and three steals. Holley hit three 3s and finished with 11 points and two assists, while Cain chipped in seven points, five rebounds and two assists. Ketter had five points and six boards for the balanced Hawks.
"Oregon's got big, strong, athletic kids, and when they show up to play, they're capable of beating anybody," Byron coach Tom Schmidt said. "I felt that when we needed a big bucket tonight, we'd either miss a shot or turn the ball over, and it's hard to come back from a deficit like that."
The Hawks advance to Friday night's regional final against undefeated Winnebago, a team they took to overtime in a loss back in early January at the Blackhawk Center.
"We get another shot at them," Mowry said, "and we have to be ready to play the same way we did tonight."
Class 2A Oregon Regional semifinal
Oregon 60, Byron 46
Star of the game: Caleb Mowry, Oregon, 26 points, 10 rebounds, 3 assists
Key performers: Dalton Payton, Byron, 21 points, 8 rebounds; Jessie McKinley Jr., Oregon, 6 points, 9 assists; Ian Holley, Oregon 11 points
Up next: Class 2A Oregon Regional championship, Oregon vs. Winnebago, 7:30 p.m. Friday