PREP BOYS BASKETBALL: Southwest Christian stays perfect with win over Mountain Lake AreaEDGERTON — Constant defensive ball pressure and accurate shooting from behind the 3-point line were two of the key factors for Southwest Christian Friday night, as the Class A third-ranked Eagles claimed an exciting 84-69 victory over the Mountain Lake Area Wolverines in a highly-anticipated Red Rock Conference boys’ basketball showdown that was played in front of a jam-packed crowd at Southwest Christian High School.
By: Lucas Knutson, Worthington Daily Globe
EDGERTON — Constant defensive ball pressure and accurate shooting from behind the 3-point line were two of the key factors for Southwest Christian Friday night, as the Class A third-ranked Eagles claimed an exciting 84-69 victory over the Mountain Lake Area Wolverines in a highly-anticipated Red Rock Conference boys’ basketball showdown that was played in front of a jam-packed crowd at Southwest Christian High School.
First place in the league standings was up for grabs, as both SWC and MLA came into the contest sporting perfect 12-0 records against conference opponents and five games up on the two teams that were tied for third (Hills-Beaver Creek and Southwestern United) entering play Friday.
The matchup certainly lived up to its billing, as MLA (18-4, 12-1) rode the sensational all-around playmaking ability of Carter Kirk and earned several leads in an action-packed first half.
Kirk, who charted 12 rebounds, four assists and three steals, scored 22 of his game-high 27 points in a variety of ways before halftime and also did much of the ball-handling against SWC’s tenacious full-court, man-to-man defensive pressure.
However, the high-flying Eagles (20-1, 13-0) had three players score 20 or more points and broke open a tie game at halftime (knotted at 38) with an 8-0 run early in the second half — maintaining at least a two-possession lead for the majority of the remaining time and then extending the gap to 15 points with some sharp free-throw shooting down the stretch.
“This was really a good test for us, and we responded well to the challenge,” SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. “MLA did a great job and deserves a lot of credit. We were happy to be tied going into halftime, because we didn’t play the type of defense that we normally do in the first half, and the Wolverines executed their game plan very well.”
MLA, which had leads of 4-2, 6-4, 8-6, 11-9 and 15-13 early in the game, used an impressive 14-2 surge to claim a 38-36 lead with less than a minute remaining in the first half.
“We played well, and I am happy with how we stayed right with SWC throughout the game,” MLA head coach Shawn Naas said. “We gave them a scare and made them work hard all night, which most teams have not been able to do this year. The Eagles are so quick defensively and apply constant pressure, but we handled it pretty well and did a nice job overall.”
Kirk scored MLA’s first two baskets, passed to Andrew Hempeck (10 points) for a 15-footer and then converted a 3-point play after a cut down the lane to spark the Wolverines to their quick leads out of the gate.
Leighton Sampson (20 points, 13 rebounds) and Klint Knutson (20 points, five assists and four steals) provided the early offense for the Eagles. Sampson had a huge two-handed putback dunk, while Knutson buried a trio of 3-pointers to help give SWC a 16-15 lead at the 10:27 mark of the first half.
Back-to-back 3-pointers — two of the 11 that SWC hit in the game — by Dominic Nibbelink (team-high 26 points, seven assists) and Kaleb Schelhaas lifted the Eagles to a 24-15 lead a bit later, while Cole Vis netted a 15-footer along the left baseline to make it 34-24 SWC with 5:34 on the clock.
MLA, though, answered by scoring 14 of the next 16 points. Hempeck hit a 3-pointer, and Josiah Stoesz (15 points, 12 rebounds) muscled up an offensive-rebound basket for the first five points.
Kirk, who played nearly the entire first half with two personal fouls, scored the Wolverines’ final nine points to give MLA a 38-36 lead with 24 seconds left. He scored on an up-and-under move in the paint, a strong drive through the lane, a second-effort putback attempt and capped it all off by nailing a 3-pointer from the top of the key.
“Carter did an outstanding job in all aspects of the game,” Naas said. “We had him bring the ball up the court against their press, and that worked well. He also found a way to score and stay aggressive after picking up his second foul about two minutes into the game.”
Baskets by Nibbelink and Sampson opened the second-half scoring, and the Eagles later increased a 44-43 lead to 52-43 with 12:58 to play after scoring eight straight points. A 3-point play by Nibbelink and a 3-pointer by Knutson highlighted that surge.
Stoesz and Zach Dickens (six points) each scored twice to help MLA trim the gap to three (54-51) with 9:13 remaining. The Wolverines were within five (65-60) after Cody Klassen (eight points) scored at the 5:59 mark.
But Nate Pfeifle (10 points, all in the last eight minutes of the game) knocked down a 3-pointer from the left corner to make it 68-60 and later hit another one from nearly the same spot to put the Eagles up 75-64 with 3:12 showing.
Sampson added a pair of interior baskets in that span, as SWC began to pull away. Knutson went 6-for-6 from the free-throw line in the last two minutes to help create the final 15-point margin.
“We had some guys with fresh legs due to them sitting with foul trouble in the first half and they stepped up,” Pap said. “We also made a few adjustments and played with more energy defensively in the second half. We needed to have a game like this, as we had to play hard all the way to the end.”
SWC extends its current winning streak to 16 games and will play at Hills-Beaver Creek Tuesday. MLA, which recently had a 16-game winning streak of its own snapped, hosts Southwestern United Tuesday.
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN 84,
MOUNTAIN LAKE AREA 69
MOUNTAIN LAKE AREA (18-4, 12-1): Harder 1 0-0 3, Klassen 4 0-0 8, Hempeck 3 3-4 10, Dickens 3 0-2 6, Stoesz 4 7-8 15, Kirk 12 2-6 27. Totals: 27 12-20 69.
SOUTHWEST CHRISTIAN (20-1, 13-0): Huisken 0 0-1 0, Pfeifle 4 0-3 10, Knutson 5 6-6 20, Schelhaas 1 0-0 3, Vis 1 0-0 2, D. Nibbelink 9 4-5 26, Talsma 1 1-2 3, Sampson 10 0-1 20. Totals: 31 11-18 84.
Mountain Lake Area 38 31 — 69
Southwest Christian 38 46 — 84
3-Point Goals: Mountain Lake Area 3 (Harder, Hempeck, Kirk); Southwest Christian 11 (Knutson 4, D. Nibbelink 4, Pfeifle 2, Schelhaas). Rebounds: Mountain Lake Area 35 (Stoesz 12, Kirk 12); Southwest Christian 24 (Sampson 13, Huisken 5). Assists: Mountain Lake Area 12 (Kirk 4); Southwest Christian 21 (D. Nibbelink 7, Knutson 5, Talsma 4). Steals: Mountain Lake Area 7 (Kirk 3); Southwest Christian 11 (Knutson 4). Turnovers: Mountain Lake Area 24, Southwest Christian 14.