In its own Thanksgiving Tournament, it was Oregon coming out victorious over a balanced 8-team field.
The Hawks beat Mendota 59-56 in Saturday’s final at the Blackhawk Center.
“Truthfully, there were six teams here that could beat each other,” Oregon coach Quinn Virgil said. “Had Lutheran not left, they would have been the heavy favorite."
Previously, the tournament had 12 teams, but Rockford Lutheran and four of lower-echelon teams left. So close was this year’s tourney, that Genoa-Kingston players and coach Corey Jenkins could be seen anxiously waiting for the outcome of the Oregon-Christian Life game on Friday.
The tiebreaker was free throw percentage and had the Hawks lost, G-K would have likely advanced to the finals instead. In that game, Oregon trailed CL 42-36 early in the fourth quarter.
“Last year, we have probably folded up our tent at that point,” Virgil said. “When things started to go haywire, it would have sent us over the edge. This year, we’re more mature and focused. That is one thing I was happy to see during the tournament.”
Facing adversity for the first time in the young season, a trio of Hawk big men, Alec Ketter, Jessie McKinley and Caleb Mowry combined to score the first 21 points of the quarter to absolutely demoralize CL.
For the game, Mowry had 22 points and Ketter 17, mostly from around the basket, to lead the Hawks.
Oregon needed all the help it could get down low, as it shot 0-for-15 from beyond the 3-point line.
“It’s a mental block,” Virgil said. “In practice, we have six to seven guys that hit it consistently.”
Oregon outscored CL 26-4 the rest of the game to win 62-46 and send the CL coach into a tirade. Technicals were called on him and one of the Eagle players.
In games against G-K and West Carroll, Oregon had double digit wins.
In Saturday’s final, Oregon jumped out to a 14-8 advantage and never let Mendota take the lead. In the fourth quarter, the Trojans put a scare into Oregon by closing to within 50-47 with four minutes left and 57-56 with five seconds left.
“We couldn’t get over the hump,” Mendota coach Jan Thompson said. “The things we did that cost us were shooting like 11-for-29 from the free throw line and having too many turnovers.”
Going into the fourth quarter, Oregon looked to have a comfortable 41-31 lead, but Mendota kept chipping away at it.
“Two things that got us back were crashing the boards and pushing the ball at all times,” Thompson said.
Ahead by three points and with possession of the ball with less than two minutes to play, Oregon could have taken time off the clock. Instead, Holden White fearlessly launched a 3-pointer that hit nothing but net for a 55-49 lead.
“Even I was saying, ‘oh no’, then after it went in, ‘yes’,” Virgil said. “That was big for us. He hit a couple of big shots.”
McKinley closed out the win with a pair of free throws. McKinley, Ketter and Mowry were named all-tournament.
“It always exciting to win,” Virgil said. “This is the first tourney that this group of seniors have ever won. We’re definitely more intense this year.”