PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Huskies hold off MLAJACKSON — Fresh off November appearances in the MSHSL state high school football tournament, the Mountain Lake Area Wolverines and the Jackson County Central Huskies treated basketball fans to an early-season thriller Thursday night in a high-scoring contest which featured 15 3-pointers, a pair of slam dunks and several impressive surges by each team.
By: Les Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
JACKSON — Fresh off November appearances in the MSHSL state high school football tournament, the Mountain Lake Area Wolverines and the Jackson County Central Huskies treated basketball fans to an early-season thriller Thursday night in a high-scoring contest which featured 15 3-pointers, a pair of slam dunks and several impressive surges by each team.
When the final buzzer sounded, it was JCC prevailing with an 80-77 victory after outscoring MLA by a 17-6 margin over the game’s final 4 minutes and 12 seconds.
The Huskies (2-0) had earlier rattled off 18 straight points to claim a commanding 29-11 lead at the 7:32 mark of the first half, but the Wolverines effectively countered and earned a 63-53 advantage with 9:04 left in the second half.
“This was just a great basketball game,” JCC head coach Trent Sukalski said. “Both teams played well and had their moments. I tip my hat to Mountain Lake Area, which is a very good all-around team.”
Veteran MLA head coach Shawn Naas saw things the same way.
“It was a very good game,” he said. “JCC got off to a great start and we couldn’t stop them. But, our kids responded, relaxed and really played outstanding defense as the game progressed. We had a few too many turnovers and JCC is so good in the open floor with its transition attack.”
After surrendering the early 18-0 run —over a span of 5:14 —the Wolverines twice closed the gap to four points (33-29 and 35-31) before the Huskies took a 43-36 lead into intermission.
MLA continued its comeback in the opening minutes of the second half, scoring eight unanswered points and claiming its first lead of the night, 44-43, on an inside basket by Carter Kirk (game-highs of 26 points and 12 rebounds, along with a trio of blocks) after a spectacular save by Josiah Stoesz (17 points, six rebounds, six assists) with 15:25 left in the game.
Thirty seconds later, Shadrack Wacker (13 points, five steals) netted a free throw for JCC’s first points of the second half.
The lead changed hands five times before a deep 3-pointer by MLA’s Andrew Hempeck (21 points, five assists) gave the Wolverines a 52-48 edge with 13:08 on the clock.
Stoesz and Zach Dickens (eight points, four steals) teamed up on nifty defensive play for MLA, forcing a JCC turnover and a timeout by Sukalski.
Wacker drained a left-side 3-pointer out of the break and a steal and layup by Taylor Christopher (team-high 24 points, game-high eight assists, four steals) put the Huskies back on top, 53-52, with 12:03 to play.
Hempeck — who had drilled a trio of 3-pointers during MLA’s first-half rally — connected on his fifth trey of the game and the Wolverines reclaimed the lead at 55-53.
A rebound bucket by Kirk, two free throws by Stoesz, another putback by Kirk (after Stoesz kept the ball alive) and a nifty pass from Kirk to a slashing Stoesz for an inside hoop capped an 11-0 run by the Wolverines and with just over 9 minutes left, MLA owned a 63-53 advantage.
“The momentum was in MLA’s favor at that point, that’s for sure,” Sukalski said. “But, we continued to play hard and created opportunities with our pressure defense and our quick ball movement down the sideline — which is something we work on.”
A pair of key free throws by Austin Hinkeldey (13 points) and a dandy drive by Christopher sliced the gap to six by the 8:07 mark and it was obvious that the game had the makings of an old-fashioned barnburner right to the end.
Dickens sank a pair of free throws, but Christopher came up with another steal and a layup, keeping the margin at six.
Off a loose ball pickup by Christopher, Wacker’s assist down the lane to a streaking Jon Harmening (eight points, eight rebounds) brought the Huskies to within four (65-61) with 6:08 to play.
Stoesz sank two from the line and JCC countered with an inside bucket by Nolan Hohenstein (10 points, team-high nine rebounds) off an assist from Wacker.
Hempeck drained a contested 2-pointer from the left side and again MLA was up by six. The Wolverines’ lead became eight (71-63) when Dickens saved a ball along the baseline and Kirk converted with 4:26 left.
Christopher sinks a pair of 3-pointers; JCC passes well off steals
Christopher, who came up with big plays throughout the game, ignited the final JCC surge with a 3-pointer 14 seconds later and Harmening’s offensive rebound and spin move to the hoop made the score 71-68 with 3:47 showing.
Thirty-four seconds later, Harmening grabbed another offensive rebound and fired a pass out to Christopher who drained his fourth 3-pointer of the game, knotting the score at 71-all.
Kirk quickly responded with a tip-in basket, giving MLA a 73-71 edge, but six seconds later Hinkeldey converted a three-point play on the other end and the Huskies never trailed again.
“We pride ourselves in getting the ball down the floor quick after a score and we executed well in that situation,” Sukalski said. “Then our press caused some turnovers and we were able to keep the lead and win a very intense, well-played game.”
Darnell Taylor-Breck (12 points, eight points, five assists, five steals) sank two free throws, giving JCC a 76-73 edge with 1:34 to play and then capped his stellar all-around performance with a hustling steal on MLA’s ensuing pass in.
Breck zipped the ball to Hohenstein in the corner who rifled a slick pass across the lane to Harmening for a basket and a 78-73 lead for the Huskies.
Dickens drained a high-arching 3-pointer from the right corner with 39 seconds left and the Wolverines were not finished yet.
After two missed free throws by the Huskies, Dickens connected once at the line and with 12 seconds left it was a one-point game, 78-77.
Three seconds later, Wacker sank a pair from the stripe and four seconds later clinched the verdict with a steal.
Great ball movement, perimeter shooting sparks early JCC run
A pair of 3-pointers by Hinkeldey and one by Christopher helped the Huskies vault to early leads of 8-2 and 11-6 as JCC moved the ball well on the perimeter against MLA’s zone defense with Josh Thaemlitz triggering the home team’s offense from the point guard position.
A Wolverine 3-pointer by Cody Klassen and a drive by Stoesz tied the score at 11-all with 12:46 on the first-half clock.
But, the Huskies scored the next 18 points, starting with a fastbreak dunk by Breck off an outlet pass from Hohenstein.
Mid-range jumpers by Hohenstein and Wacker followed, before Christopher nailed a 3-pointer off an inside-out pass from Harmening. Wacker’s 3-pointer from the corner was JCC’s fifth of the game and gave the Huskies a 25-11 lead with 8:24 to play in the first half.
A floater in the lane by Christopher and an inside hoop by Harmening capped the run.
“We moved the ball well and hit some big shots,” summed up Sukalski about the impressive first-half JCC surge. “But, MLA is a good team and earned its way back into the game, playing very good inside defense.”
Hempeck brought the Wolverines back with a pair of 3-pointers and, later, a couple of putback baskets by Kirk, a steal and layup by Stoesz and another 3-pointer by Hempeck created lots of excitement for the visitors.
A slam dunk by Kirk — off a steal and long pass from Hempeck — made the score 35-31 with 2:44 left in the half.
But, the Huskies, who scored twice off their baseline inbounds play and received layups (after steals) from both Wacker and Christopher took a seven-point cushion into the break.