South Eugene debuts new 'Axe' mascot with a big victory over rival Sheldon
EUGENE, Ore. - They may not be the 'Axemen' anymore, but South Eugene kicked off its reign as the 'Axe' in a picture perfect way on Tuesday, with a win over longtime rivals Sheldon Irish.
South Eugene stuffed the paint and ran all over the Irish on their way to a 56-45 victory, giving them a big win when it comes to the playoff picture, which will be more clear in a week once the regular season comes to a close.
Senior Jay Elmore, who is the Axe's go-to scorer, finished the game with a game-high 24 points, 20 of which came in the second half. South Eugene held the Irish to just four offensive rebounds, winning the battle of the boards, 30-19, overall.
"This is probably the first game we've played where we actually executed a game plan," said South Eugene coach Dave Hancock. "We didn't panic, and we stayed solid defensively. They haven't shot the ball well all year, so we stayed packed in. And if they hit a couple of threes, then we'll live with it."
Sheldon had a tough night offensively, going 4-for-22 (18%) from beyond the arc, and 19-for-48 (39%) overall. The Irish also only went to the free throw line five times in the contest.
In comparison, South Eugene was 19-of-37 (51%) for the game and 14-for-17 (82%) from the charity stripe. The Axe also managed to assist on 11 of their 19 field goals.
Senior Guard Jaren Banks led Sheldon in scoring with 12 points off the bench, while senior Devante Bailey added 10.
Though Elmore had a quiet first half, South Eugene still took a 27-20 lead into the locker room, mainly due to the play of seniors Will Graves and Calvin Mitchell. Graves finished with 10 points (2-for-2 from three-point range), six rebounds, four steals and three assists. Mitchell was also a big factor, adding seven points (2-for-3 from three), eight rebounds and three assists.
Coming out of the half, Elmore scored in flurries, pushing the Axe out to a 40-26 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In the final frame, Elmore scored 12 of his 24 points, helping South Eugene to stave off a late Sheldon comeback attempt.
With just under five minutes left, Banks knocked down a three, and followed it up with a steal and an and-one basket, cutting the lead to 44-36. The Axe managed to get the lead back to 10, when Sheldon's Patrick Herbert threw down back-to-back dunks to get the Irish back into the game.
Following a three from Sheldon's Uta Mageo, the Irish were trailing just 50-45, but South Eugene was able to knock down its free throws in the final minute and walk away with the W.
With just two games left on the regular-season schedule, the Axe need to win both games at Roseburg and vs. Willamette to solidify their spot in the playoffs. At the moment, South Eugene sits in a tie for fourth place with the Wolverines.
Last time South Eugene played Willamette, they lost in OT, 93-90.
"Last time, a lot of points were given up," said Hancock. "But again, our mentality is that this is a playoff game, and if you lose, you don't get to play again."
On Friday, the Axe will travel to Roseburg, followed by a highly anticipated rematch with Willamette at home on Tuesday, quite possibly with a playoff spot on the line.