REEDSPORT — Tyreece Gardner hit a 3-pointer at the third-quarter buzzer to tie the Brave’s home opener against Oakland at 37, salvaging a third period that saw the Oakers erase a 10-point halftime deficit.
That set up the potential for a fourth quarter that could come down to the end, but it was a play in the beginning that switched the momentum in Oakland's favor as the Oakers went on to beat the Brave 58-47 on Friday night.
Reedsport got tagged with a technical foul on the first possession of the fourth quarter, giving the Oakers two shots and the ball after starting the quarter on defense. Sean Winn, who led Oakland with 18 points, hit both free throws then Cameron Benzel (15 points) scored on the ensuing possession and Oakland was in control for the rest of the way.
“They made a big run in the third quarter, that helped 'em,” Gardner said. “We couldn’t really make the adjustment and we didn’t really hold our composure there in the end. But all in all, I think it was a great game for us, even though that we lost. I’m still really proud of our team.
“The second half they were pretty physical. We didn’t really adjust to it.”
The finish, though frustrating, wasn’t in vain. Reedsport played solid defense early against a capable Oakland team, keeping its main threat, Benzel, down for the whole first half.
Benzel, a long 6-foot-5 lefty, didn’t score in the first two quarters and didn’t go to the free throw line, either. Reedsport even forced him to the bench in the second quarter with three fouls with about four minutes left — all of which came in the second period — which helped spark its end-of-the-quarter run.
With Benzel on the bench, Reedsport scored 14 points to Oakland’s one to take a 26-16 lead at halftime. Gardner was the driving force in the rally, netting 11 of his game-high 20 points during the run. Dallas McGill added 11 points for the Brave.
Reedsport caught a glimpse of what its offense could look like in full during the run. The Brave weathered some early turnover struggles that its defense nullified with its strong play on Benzel. The Brave committed 16 first-half turnovers.
Reedsport, though, battled through. Until Winn hit a pair of free throws to start the second quarter, Oakland’s only baskets came from 3-pointers, an early trend the Brave quickly erased. Winn and Nic Freeman hit a pair each, but the Oakers didn’t hit another until the fourth quarter when Winn hit two more.
“I thought that we played really good defense,” Gardner said. “I think it was the first time we played good defense for at least three-and-a-half quarters. Everything felt like it was clicking in the first half.”
Oakland, which lost to state runner-up Stanfield in the first round of last year’s playoffs, wasted no time in making a run in the third quarter.
Benzel hit a pair of free throws then scored a couple more times while Reedsport had a bout of turnovers issues. A Reedsport timeout tried to stop the bleeding, and the Brave got two points from Korde Parmenter to give Reedsport a five-point lead at 28-23 with 5:11 on the clock.
Oakland just kept coming. Benzel scored six more points as Oakland took a 31-28 lead, using a quick first step and long arms to flick in reverse layups or draw fouls. He also had nine rebounds and four blocks.
“Great players will score, and that was his biggest thing,” Gardner said of Benzel. “That was his biggest thing. He’s a good player. He finds his shots every time.”
Reedsport tried to respond, with a basket from McGill to cut the Oakland lead to 31-30 with 2:02 left, but Reedsport could only trade baskets until Gardner hit his 3 at the buzzer to tie.
Reedsport has another home game Tuesday, when Mapleton comes calling for a 7 p.m. tip-off.