State boys basketball: Huskies fall to Lake City in consolation game
ST. PAUL -- The Jackson County Central Huskies always operate under the principle that sluggish starts don't worry them. They believe that by applying constant pressure offensively and defensively, they will find a rhythm that will wear down thei...
ST. PAUL -- The Jackson County Central Huskies always operate under the principle that sluggish starts don’t worry them. They believe that by applying constant pressure offensively and defensively, they will find a rhythm that will wear down their opponents, get them out of their comfort zone, and lead to victory.
Thursday night at Concordia University in St. Paul, in the semifinal round of the consolation bracket in the 2017 Minnesota state Class AA boys basketball tournament, the plan didn’t work. The Lake City Tigers had answers for everything the Huskies threw at them and ended JCC’s season with a 62-41 victory.
One day after falling to Annandale in a tight battle to the end, the Huskies’ shooting betrayed them against Lake City. Shooting just 34 percent from the field (and 3-for-22 from 3-point range), the Section 3A champions were tormented by a Lake City squad that made 11-of-19 3-pointers, out-rebounded JCC 34-27 and proved deadly resistant to wearing down from JCC’s patented pressure tactics.
“They played really well. I think they played great,” JCC head coach Trent Sukalski said of the Tigers afterward. “We didn’t play our best game. The last two nights we didn’t shoot very well. We’ve made shots pretty much all year. I think the tank was a little empty tonight.”
Guard Easton Bahr was the only Jackson County Central player to score in double figures Thursday, with 10. Sparkplug guard Jacob Christopher, who scored 33 against Annandale, was held to seven. The Huskies’ leading scorer at halftime, Ryan Christopher, had just four points at the break as the Tigers successfully parried their rivals’ relentless attempts to get a scoring run started. He didn’t score in the second half.
Crisp ball movement, solid rebounding at both ends, and patience in the half-court continually kept JCC at bay. The Huskies got a brief rally going early in the second half but the run was squelched on a 3-point shot by Lake City guard Mark Kjos to make the score 28-21 in the Tigers’ favor. Nathan Hesse then hit another 3-pointer, Mitch Marien buried another at 13:51, and it was 36-25. A Kjos three at 13:03 made it 39-25.
Even when the game resembled a track meet -- which is always to JCC’s liking -- the Tigers held tough. JCC attempted more 3-point shots to turn the tide, but the shots were often short.
“They played hard. They made a lot of 3-point shots. And we didn’t,” said Bahr. “We had some open looks, and they just weren’t falling today.”
JCC managed just four steals and four assists for the game.
Kjos finished with 15 points, all on 3-point tries. Marien scored 16 points and Heise had 13.
“We gave it our hardest effort. After the Annandale game, we may have worn out a little bit,” said Jacob Christopher.
If so, it didn’t show in the Huskies’ effort. All the way to the end, they played hard and aggressively as if the only way they felt they could lose was to run out of time.
Finally, they did.
Sukalski was frustrated that the Tigers were able to hold onto the ball for long stretches in an attempt to slow the pace of scoring. “I kind of feel like we didn’t even have a chance to play,” he said, calling for a rule change.
“That would be a game for the advocacy of a shot clock,” he said.
With the win, Lake City improves to 24-7 on the 2016-17 season with a chance to win the consolation championship today at 2 p.m. at Concordia University. Jackson County Central finished the season at 26-6.
Two-thousand-seventeen marked the second consecutive year JCC qualified for the state tournament, having finished second in 2016. This year’s performance wasn’t what the Huskies wanted, but Sukalski was effusive with his praise after it was all over.
“I told them they’re the best group we’ve ever had. Fifty-one wins the last two years. How many teams have done that in the state of Minnesota?”
Bahr and Jacob Christopher were ready to look back fondly on what the team has accomplished. Christopher recalled all the games this year’s seniors have played together since their earliest days -- all done for the love of basketball and the desire to be great.
“Ever since we were little, we had such a high-powered offense. We feel we’re never out of a game. We just gotta have stops,” he said.
“We get up and down and work as hard as we can,” said Bahr. “That’s what we do. We play blue-collar basketball.”
Lake City 25 62
Jackson County Central 17 41