BANDON — Close games have been the norm for Myrtle Point’s boys basketball team this season, so when the Bobcats found themselves in a tight game late against Mapleton on Friday at the Bandon Dunes Holiday Invitational, they didn’t panic.

The Bobcats made six of their final eight free throws and got a few key defensive stops and rebounds to hold off the Sailors 51-46 and advance to the championship game in the Gold Bracket. They meet Marshfield’s junior varsity team Saturday after the Pirates beat Bonanza on Friday.

The experience in close games paid off as Myrtle Point improved to 7-5 on the season, nine of the games decided by five points or less or in overtime.

“Last year, we would have lost that game,” said Gabe Swan, who had a game-high 24 points for the Bobcats.

“That’s one thing I’m proud of,” added Myrtle Point coach Jamil Wynn. “I think our mental toughness has gotten better.”

Myrtle Point led most of the way Friday, but any time the Bobcats started to get separation, Mapleton came back, four different times pulling within two points in the fourth period, the last at 48-46 on a basket by JJ Neece with 25 seconds to go.

Luke Nicholson hit a free throw with 22 seconds to go and, after the Bobcats came up with one final stop, Tyler Beyer-Smith added two foul shots with four seconds remaining for the final margin.

Swan, who hit three late free throws, said he expected the team to do well at the line.

“One of Jamil’s main things at practices is we have to run a ton if we miss free throws,” he said.

The free throws helped make up for an off night from the floor. Myrtle Point was just 14-for-53 overall, 8-for-40 after the first quarter.

The Bobcats came out hot from outside, making four 3-pointers (three by Swan) in the first period. But then they went cold, though they kept firing away from outside the rest of the first half.

At halftime, Wynn encouraged them to quit shooting from outside unless the shots were wide open and be more patient in the offense.

“He told us to stop living and dying by the 3,” Swan said. “We started pushing the ball more (and getting it inside). We got a lot of free throws and easy baskets.”

Myrtle Point only tried two 3-pointers, both misses, in the second half and finished 5-for-20 from long range.

They also stepped up their defense the second half.

“We rebounded a lot better,” Swan said. “There weren’t a lot of second chances for them.”

Jose Medina finished with 10 boards for the Bobcats and Swan had eight and Beyer-Smith seven.

Nicholson scored 12 points.

Neece had 18 points and 12 rebounds for Mapleton and Justyce Wierichs added 12 points. AJ Moso also had 12 rebounds.

Myrtle Point is hoping to build momentum for the Sunset Conference season, which starts Tuesday at home against Toledo and also includes a game at Coquille on Thursday (moved up a day because of a lack of officials on the South Coast).

“Going into league, we need to be as confident as we can, especially starting off against Toledo and Coquille,” Swan said.

Wynn pointed out the Bobcats have been pretty good against top teams this season.

Though he would have liked to see a more comfortable margin Friday, he was understandably happy with the outcome.

“It was rough,” he said. “But it was a win.”

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Sports Editor John Gunther can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 241, or by email at john.gunther@theworldlink.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jguntherworld.