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January 13, 2003

Mt. Zion Topped By Portland Jefferson

After a shocking conference loss to Portland (OR) Roosevelt on Friday night, Portland (OR) Jefferson was in dire need of a win - to regain their confidence if nothing else. The Democrats would get their win in an improbable 73-66 victory over Mount Zion (NC) Christian Academy in the final game of the inaugural two-day Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Invitational held at Jefferson High School on Saturday.

It's been a tough early season for Jefferson - Oregon's most nationally known team - who entered this season the #1 team in the state. The Demos have suffered some tough losses, but to some truly tough competition. After a season opening loss to Kickapoo (MO) in the KMOX Shootout in St. Louis, the Democrats went a disappointing 2-2 in the Les Schwab Invitational, losing games to Houston Westbury Christian and Redmond (OR) (now the #1 ranked team in the state). Head coach Marshall Haskins' team escaped with a win over conference foe Lincoln on a buzzer-beating three before the loss to Roosevelt dropped their overall record to 3-4.

It didn't look good coming into the game against Mt. Zion, as the Warriors are a team stocked with future D-I talent from top to bottom, including Charlotte-bound 7'0" senior Martin Iti, and highly regarded juniors such as 6'10" F/C Mohamed Tangara, 6'6" wing Glen Dandridge, 6'5" shooter Albert Webber, and 6'5" combo guard Tasheed Carr. With the Warriors' roster featuring six players 6'9" or taller, defeating them would be a tough task for Jefferson, a team whose average height is approximately 6'3" and whose tallest player is 6'8" senior post Ray Peterson.

Thus, for Jefferson to have a chance at keeping it close - much less win - the Demos would have to rely on their quickness, their full-court pressure defense, and the hot hand of 6'5" senior shooting guard Thomas Gardner (above). So much of Jefferson's offense depends on the Missouri-bound Gardner, who has the green light to shoot whenever he wishes. A tremendous long-range shooter with a lightning quick release, Gardner got the Demos started off early with three deep treys, giving them an early 15-11 lead. However, the Warriors stayed in the ballgame by getting the ball inside to Iti and 6'7" junior Richard Dorsey (left), and emerged out of the first quarter with a 23-21 lead after a pair of three-point bombs by Webber.

The Warriors would take control in the second quarter as Jefferson struggled with missed shots and turnovers. Carr, a combo guard playing the point due to the absence of Ramel Bradley (who left the team to return home to New York early in the year), led the break well as the Warriors scored plenty of points off of transition. Mt. Zion outscored Jefferson 21-8 in the quarter, and went into halftime with a commanding 44-29 lead. After the initial hot start, Gardner cooled off for Jefferson, and while he finished the half with 14 points, it was only on 5-for-15 shooting.

With all the hardships Jefferson have already faced this season, they weren't about to give up easily. The Demos came out of halftime with renewed energy, while Mt. Zion acted as if the rest of the game would be a cakewalk. The results? An incredible Jefferson comeback. While Gardner did his part with six points in the run, head coach Haskins also got some production out of some unlikely sources in senior post Peterson and 5'9" sophomore point guard Mac Hopson. Peterson, normally not a good foul shooter, scored 8 points in the period on 6-for-6 shooting from the line, and his two foul shots at the 4:11 mark brought the Demos to within seven, 48-41. After a Warriors miss, Hopson nailed a wide-open three, and after a Gardner three, Hopson hit another from the top of the key for a 50-48 lead. A basket and foul shot by 6'4" Demos senior forward Jerae Nelson capped off the period, which finished with Jefferson scoring 18 unanswered points and holding a 53-48 third quarter advantage.

Mt. Zion finally woke up in the fourth, as Carr wasn't about to let the Warriors quit. He scored five points at the start of the period, and a basket by Dorsey at the 3:14 mark brought Mt. Zion to within one, 58-57. But when it's crunch time, Jefferson naturally turns to their #1 option, and Thomas Gardner more than came through. He immediately came back and scored on a driving basket, and then after a lost Mt. Zion possession, came back and nailed a long-range three for a 63-57 advantage. After the Warriors' Webber responded with a three, Gardner came right back on the break to hit another trey for a 66-60 lead, and Mt. Zion would come no closer than five the rest of the way as Jefferson finished off the game on the free throw line.

Gardner finished the game for Jefferson with 28 points on 10-for-25 shooting, 8-for-14 from three-point range, and four rebounds. Ray Peterson had 13 points and seven rebounds, while Mac Hopson scored 11 and Jerae Nelson chipped in with eight points and seven rebounds. The Demos only shot 21-for-56 (.375) from the field, but hit 10 threes and 21 free throws, compared to six and 14 for Mt. Zion.

For Mt. Zion, Albert Webber led the way with 17 points on 6-for-14 shooting, 5-for-12 from three-point range. Richard Dorsey scored 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds, while Tasheed Carr had 11 point, four rebounds, and five assists. Martin Iti tallied 10 points on 5-for-5 shooting (including four dunks), grabbed seven rebounds and blocked three shots. Despite the loss, the Warriors left the Classic 1-1, having beaten Portland (OR) Grant, 81-53, on Friday.

In earlier action on Saturday at the MLK Classic, Mount Tahoma (WA), currently ranked as the #2 4A team in the state of Washington, defeated Prairie (WA), 67-48. Sophomore 5'11" combo guard Gary Ward led the way with 19 points, while junior 6'7" forward Julio Feliciano (who is already hearing from Portland State) added 17. Junior 5'11" guard Baree Ward (whom head coach Owen Chambers said is being recruited by Washington), who is averaging 24 ppg, did not play due to a broken thumb. Mount Tahoma went 2-0 in the Classic, beating Battle Ground (WA) 59-47 on Friday.

Jed Tai is a Senior Writer with Hoopville.com

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