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Defending the crown
Times photo: Adam Krebs Monroes Kevin Frint works his way into the post against an Oregon defender Friday. Frint had eight points.
MONROE - The Cheesemakers nearly gave up their shot at a fourth-straight Badger South Conference title Friday. Monroe ceded a 10-point halftime lead to Oregon before Bryan Tordoff's 3-pointer with four seconds left sealed the win, 50-47.

"I thought we were going down that same similar path we went against Milton," head coach Pat Murphy said. Monroe had a comfortable lead Tuesday at Milton, only to squeak out a win. "But we found a way to win and keep ourselves in the race."

After darting out to a 31-21 halftime lead, the Cheesemakers found themselves filled with holes on both the defensive end and at the free throw line. The Panthers (3-12, 2-7) outscored Monroe (12-3, 7-2) 17-8 in the frame to creep back to within a point headed into the fourth quarter.

"When you're the hunted, everyone is going to give you their best," junior guard Michael Barrett said. "We have to be ready for that every night. We can't look at records and think that we're going to get an automatic win."

That's when 6-foot 7-inch senior forward Kevin Frint stepped up his game. Frint ended consecutive Oregon possessions with steals to open the final period, both of which resulted in points.

"We played defense for what seemed like two straight minutes and Kevin got us a couple deflections," Murphy said.

Barrett, who had an unusually tough night from the free throw line (3 of 9), had a big steal with 5:15 left, going coast-to-coast and finishing with an easy lay in to put Monroe up five. Barrett had another lay up nearly two minutes later and a pair of free throws by Bryan Tordoff gave Monroe a 7-point lead at 47-40 with 2:16 to play. Both Barrett and Tordoff scored 18 points for the Cheesemakers.

Oregon never quit. The Panthers went on a 7-0 run in just over a minute's time to tie the game at 47 with 53 seconds left.

From there, the ball - and game - was in Tordoff's hands.

"He looked at me and asked what we wanted to do. I just looked at him and said, 'Go do it,'" Murphy said. "It's not real tough coaching - just give the ball to your best kid and let him make a play at the end."

Tordoff found an opening from outside the arc beyond the left elbow and dropped in his third 3 of the game with 4 seconds left. By the time Oregon called its final timeout, only 2.6 seconds remained.

"I definitely wanted to take the last shot because I didn't want to give (Oregon) another chance to tie it and I definitely didn't want to go into overtime," Tordoff said.

On the inbound to halfcourt, Frint dove in front of a Panthers player to get the ball and seal the win.

"We did not play well but we knew we are still playing for that conference championship and we couldn't lose. We knew we had to have this one," Frint said.

Monroe's poor shooting from the charity stripe, 8-for-18, is something that concerns Murphy.

"It's a little frustrating when you lose momentum like that, that is still no excuse to miss free throws. Your heads have always got to be in the game," he said.

Tordoff hit two 3s and Barrett also connected from deep in the first quarter to help get the Cheesemakers out to a 12-4 lead just 3:26 into the game. Barrett had eight points in the opening frame, including a driving layup just before the buzzer. Tordoff had two buzzer-beaters in the game. The first was a long 2-pointer headed into halftime with three hands in his face.

Oregon tied it up at 36-36 with 1:55 left in the third after trailing the entire game.

"I don't know what's going on, but we've had a real tough time this year playing all four quarters," Tordoff said.

Monroe travels to Freeport tonight for the third installment of the "Snack Bowl" against the Pretzels. The Lady Cheesemakers play the first varsity game at 6 p.m. and the boys will start at approximately 7:30 p.m. Murphy's teams are 0-2 against their Illinois opponent, something the head coach would like to change.

"Right now it's not much of a rivalry because they've beaten us twice. But we'll see what we can do," Murphy said.

Then on Thursday, Feb. 11, the Cheesemakers head to Madison to take on conference leader Madison Edgewood. A win over the Crusaders (10-6, 8-1) would put Monroe back in a tie for the Badger South lead. Edgewood knocked off Monona Grove (10-7, 6-3) 50-48 Friday. Monroe has won three straight Badger South titles. No team has ever won four in a row.

"This is huge. We want that conference championship and then we'll worry about playoffs," Barrett said.