By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

The Furnace finally friendly for Mac

The Grizzlies went a month without winning on their home court, the last victory coming 52-40 vs. Gresham on Dec. 21.

“Finally,” McMinnville coach Willie Graham said Tuesday.

McMinnville went 0-3 at home since playing the Gophers, but two of those losses came to two of the best teams in the conference — Tigard and Century.

The Grizzlies (7-8, 3-3) play at 7:15 p.m. tonight at home vs. Newberg to wrap up the first half of their Pacific Conference schedule. The Tigers are 0-15 this season, providing McMinnville with a good opportunity to build on a two-game winning streak and climb back into the top half of the standings.

“It’s big. Really is,” Graham said. “It would give us a lot of momentum going into the second half.”

McMinnville has lost two games in conference play by eight points or less, leading players to think they can turn it around. The top four teams in the Pacific Conference automatically qualify for the state playoffs, and Mac is currently tied with Forest Grove for fourth, though the Grizzlies own the tiebreaker after a win last week vs. the Vikings.

“I think we are getting better,” junior guard Gage Gubrud said. “From the first half of the conference we have learned a lot. I don’t think there is anyone that is that much better than anyone else. We can beat every team. A lot is still up for grabs.”

Graham said Century is still a great team, but even the Jaguars have shown some cracks lately. Century lost back-to-back games to Tigard and Tualatin, and it’s the Tigers that sit at the top of the standings at 6-0. Tualatin is second at 5-1. Mac lost to Tigard by eight points and by two points to Tualatin.

The Grizzlies tend to play grind-them-out, close games that fray the nerves of their coach. Even a 15-point win vs. Glencoe didn’t do much to alleviate that.

“Even though they scored 37 points I didn’t feel it was our best defensive night,” Graham said. “We let them get into things too easily. … I never felt comfortable.”

Mac might have let Glencoe run its offense, but the Grizzlies did force 19 turnovers in the game. Mac jumped out to an 8-0 lead and led 15-7 after the first quarter.

“It was the second game in a row we started out great,” he said.

The Crimson Tide did make a comeback to start the second quarter, giving Graham some pause. Glencoe scored nine straight points to cut Mac’s lead 15-14 with 6:38 left in the second quarter.

“There was a stretch in the second quarter where I thought we were really going to put it away, but they came back,” Graham said. “We have to keep going in situations like that.”

Gubrud and junior Drew Spence sparked a 14-0 Mac run that gave the Grizzlies some breathing room heading into the locker room for halftime. Gubrud, who came through in the clutch late in the Forest Grove game last week, had his jump shot working for him early and he also pressed his advantage at the rim. Gubrud scored six points during Mac’s second-quarter run, and Spence added four.

“He’s been working on his shooting,” Graham said. “He didn’t settle Tuesday, though. He went to the hoop.”

Spence’s play provided another boost for the Grizzlies. Graham said Spence has battled through a plague of injuries and illness in the past year, but he was good to go Tuesday and provided four points and two steals.

“I saw some opportunities for him to get some time,” Graham said, “and he played well.”

Mac has either lived or died by Gubrud’s scoring. Gubrud has provided much of the scoring load, with Taylor Vicknair having big games at times. Gubrud is averaging 15.4 points this season and Vicknair 11.7. They are the only Grizzlies averaging double figures.

Graham said one of these days everyone will play well together.

“We’re going to get a game where everyone is clicking,” he said. “And then we’ll really play well.”

The Grizzlies held Glencoe at arm’s length for most of the second half, never letting the lead to fall below 12 points.

“We kept the ball away from them in the fourth quarter,” Gubrud said. “That’s what you want to do with the lead. We played well. Consistently.”

McMinnville is walking a fine line heading into the second half. After Newberg, the Grizzlies play at home Tuesday vs. Hillsboro (2-14) before playing a brutal three-game stretch at Century, at Tigard and then at home vs. Tualatin.

“Each win we get makes winning again even more important,” Graham said.

Notes: Gubrud scored 22 points vs. Glencoe and had five rebounds and three assists. Autencio scored six, and Blaine Parker and Bryce Anderson scored five. Blake Egli, Spence and Vicknair each had four.

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