Panthers primed for state
The never-say-die Ellsworth Panthers boys basketball team has a tall order to live up to. After rallying from down 18 points in the last 3:40 of regulation in the Section 3A title game against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, the Panthers (26-4) are set to...
The never-say-die Ellsworth Panthers boys basketball team has a tall order to live up to.
After rallying from down 18 points in the last 3:40 of regulation in the Section 3A title game against Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, the Panthers (26-4) are set to take on Stephen-Argyle (28-1), champions of Section 8A, in today's state quarterfinal at 11 a.m. at Williams Arena.
"It's been a frenzy around town," head coach Markus Okeson said on Tuesday. "A lot of fans, a lot of kids are getting into it."
Okeson, in his first year as the head coach, has used a laid-back approach with his squad. During practice, he likes to keep things loose and fun. In the game, he tries not to get on a player too much if they make a mistake.
"If the kids make a mistake, I'm not going to lay into them," he said. "You know (he) made a mistake. If I say something, (he'll) probably get more upset."
Against R-T-R, Okeson looked to keep the team from folding the tent, a task made easier by having players who never gave up hope.
"These kids play all the way to the end," Okeson said. "We were down 18 with 3:40 to go, but we've got some offensive weapons."
The biggest weapons are Cody Schilling, Aaron Van Der Stoep, Bryan Kramer and Ben Herman. All three can hit from the 3-point line, and also attack the interior of the defense with dribble penetration.
Herman is one of the main reasons his team is still alive, hitting the game-tying 3-pointer at the end of regulation to tie R-T-R, forcing the overtime.
Schilling, of course, is the man who makes everything go. Averaging nearly a triple-double for the season, the sophomore has taken over the leadership role of the team and run with it.
His leadership was no more evident than in the R-T-R contest, when he helped the comeback efforts.
"Going into the game we knew we had a good chance (to win)," Schilling said. "It was amazing, our comeback, but we knew we could do it."
Stephen-Argyle enters the state tournament for the first time since consolidation. Nevin Lubarski leads the offense from the point, scoring 17.7 points per game. He also has averaged 5.2 rebounds and 4.1 assists.
Lubarski also has a solid 3-point shooter in Jesse Sundby on his side. Sundby, a guard for the Storm, has hit a team-best 55 shots from behind the 3-point line.
But what makes the team go is its defense. Stephen-Argyle has allowed an average of just under 51 points per game. By comparison, Ellsworth has been held to under 60 points per game only twice during the season, the last coming in the second-round Section 3A victory against Southwest Christian.
Consequently, the Storm will look to keep the tempo down with its defense and not allow the Panthers to get out into a running game. The tempo, however, is not much of a concern to Okeson, who knows his team can play well at either a fast pace or a slower one.
"We've played the other team's tempo before," he said. "We can definitely play a half-court game. It's not our preference but, if it happens, it happens."
For Ellsworth to win, the Panthers must get perimeter offense from Van Der Stoep and Kramer and do a solid job on the defensive boareds -- not allowing the Storm second and third opportunities to score.
"We've got to keep them off the glass -- one shot and done for them -- otherwise we'll find ourselves in trouble," Okeson said.
If Ellsworth wins today, the Panthers play in the state semifinals Friday at Target Center against either New York Mills or Osakis.