Jefferson's Nate Rawlins-Kibonge powers up over South Salem's Ryan Brown for two of his game-high 25 points.
Jefferson's Nate Rawlins-Kibonge powers up over South Salem's Ryan Brown for two of his game-high 25 points.

PORTLAND — Maybe the old basketball theory really is true: Little guys get tired, but big guys never shrink.

All the evidence Jefferson needed in its semifinal game of the OSAA / OnPoint Community Credit Union 6A boys basketball tournament came Friday afternoon when the Democrats tipped it off with South Salem at the University of Portland’s Chiles Center.

The tiny Saxons threw the quickest team the Democrats have faced this year at the tournament’s top seed and gave Jeff a proper headache for three quarters. But eventually the game went inside to the Democrats’ sophomore towers, 6-foot-7 Nate Rawlins-Kibonge and 6-8 Kamron Robinson, and South cracked and disintegrated like everybody else lately.

The Democrats (23-5) won 77-63 behind a 25-point, 16-rebound night from Rawlins-Kibonge to roll into the championship game for the third straight year. There, they will face crafty Jesuit for the Big Trophy at 3:15 p.m. Saturday

Jefferson’s first opponent of the year will be its last: The Democrats beat the Crusaders 79-75 in the opening game of the season.

Jesuit is a lot like South Salem, too. The Crusaders don’t play a traditional post offense, either. They don’t have the size. But they do have shooters everywhere and are just as quick.

South Salem, then, was good practice for the Democrats. The Saxons (23-4) play like a five-ball pinball game. They have one 6-4 starter and everybody else is 6-1 or smaller.

But they press and they run and they wear teams out. Only the well-conditioned can keep up with them.

The Democrats know this from experience. In the Les Schwab Invitational in December, they had to come from 16 points back to beat the Saxons by five.

“We knew it would be a battle,” Jefferson coach Pat Strickland said. “They’re so well coached and they make you play well to beat them.”

The undeterred Saxons got 11 points from their only inside guy, 6-1 senior Ryan Brown, to take a 20-18 lead after a quarter. Their tightened 2-3 zone kept Jeff from exploding on them. Only Rawlins-Kibonge did any kind of damage to South Salem with 10 points right around the basket.

But Jeff’s regular perimeter shooters struggled, so the situation cried out for somebody with a hot shooting hand.

Enter wing Lamar Washington. He missed his first three-pointer, but buried his next one with 1:21 left in the first period to give the Democrats a 16-13 lead, but in the fury of the fast pace of the game hardly anybody else noticed.

Before the game was over, everybody noticed. Washington hit 5 of 6 three-pointers and scored 20 points.

He’s a freshman.

“I felt (the hot hand) in my second shot,” he said. “I was like 0 for 5 last night (against Grant), but after I hit two in a row tonight, I felt good.”

Is he always this hot? Nah. The Democrats have informal three-point shooting contests after practice all the time.

“I usually lose,” Washington said, “to big Nate or Jalen Brown.”

With two bigs inside and an outside shooter, defenses are out of options.

“With Keylin (Vance) off and Jalen off,” Strickland said, “It’s always good to have a shooter to pick us up. When you have that, you’re solid gold.”

Rawlins-Kibonge, against whom the South Salem zone was limiting his mobility, appreciated having a shooter around, too.

“When he shoots the three like that,” he said, “it stretches their defense out and takes away the double-teams.”

The Saxons were still a load on the other endow the floor, though. Jaden Nielsen-Skinner, their 5-10 senior point guard, penetrated the Jefferson perimeter when he felt like it, kicking the ball around to Eric Lungu, Treyden Harris and Trey Galbraith for open shots.

That was enough to keep the Saxons in the game for the longest time. It was tied at 47-47 when the Democrats went off on a 9-3 burst to end the third quarter with a six-point edge.

It was enough. The tiring Saxons had trouble getting inside on the Democrats the rest of the way, and the three-pointers stopped dropping. Jeff’s dominance on the backboards — a 47-25 margin — told much of the story of why.

Jeff’s 14-8 finish in the last period padded the score.

Ten of the points came at the line. Significantly, the last field goal was another rim-threatening jam by Rawlins-Kibonge.

Mission accomplished. Rawlins-Kibonge hit 11 of his 12 shots — the Saxons had nobody who could either block him down low or move him out of the key.

Trevon Richmond and Marcus Tsohonis had 10 each for the Democrats. Lungu hit 3 of 6 three-pointers and led the Saxons with 19; Brown added 14 and Nielsen-Skinner finished with 12.