January 18, 2007 at 7:57 a.m.
The Knights took a 5-0 lead before Justin Novak broke the ice for the Vikings with 16:22 remaining in the half. Two minutes later, Irondale was up by nine when another Novak hoop started a 7-0 Viking run to close the gap to 11-9.
The Vikings continued to control the game for the next 11 minutes. When Jake Chambers hit a freethrow with 9:07 to go, they'd created a 13-13 tie. A Jake Kovarik three-pointer gave the Vikings their first lead at 16-15 with 3:45 left.
A John Lindstrom field goal, followed by consecutive threes from Nick Perrin and Jake Chambers and a Novak two gave the Vikings their biggest lead of the game. The Vikes were up 26-19 with 48 seconds left before the Knights scored the last five points of the period, making the halftime score 26-24.
The Vikings really struggled on the offensive end in the second half. Novak's eight points kept the Vikings in the game through the first part of the period. When he completed a a three point play with 11:39 left, the score was tied at 34.
But, no Viking was able to connect during a nine minute span that saw the Knights score 21 consecutive points and take control of the game. With 2:17 remaining, NB's failure to score had put them behind 55-34.
"We played really well on defense in the first half and again in the second half, until we got down by so much we had to take some chances," said North Branch head coach Bill Baumann. "It was the same old story--we played really hard but we just couldn't make any shots."
Novak got some scoring help the last two minutes as Bryce Hunter and Jake Chambers turned passes from senior Mark Johnson into baskets. But, by then it was a case of 'too little, too late' as the teams played out the last two minutes.
"It (the poor shooting) has really turned into a mental thing, so we have to start to clear our heads and just start over. We've set some goals and some timelines to turn this thing around," Baumann commented.
The Vikings didn't have a lot of offensive highlights in the contest, mostly because they went only 16 for 57 from the field. Novak's 16 points made him the only Viking in double figures. Chambers, like most of his teammates, struggled from the field, but he did contribute three assists and six rebounds. Hunter led his team with seven boards.
North Branch 26 16 42
Irondale 24 36 60
North Branch Scoring
Justin Novak 16
Nick Perrin 5
John Lindstrom 3
Jake Chambers 7
Bryce Hunter 4
Jake Kovarik 7
Columbia Heights 15 44 59
North Branch 29 28 57
The Vikings' frustration continued Friday, January 12 in a last-second 59-57 loss to Columbia Heights in North Branch. The game appeared to be headed for overtime when the Hylanders launched an off-balance three pointer with three seconds on the clock. The shot clanked off the rim, but the rebound fell in the hands of a Hylander, who threw it in from the right block to end the game.
The Viking defense suffocated the Columbia Heights offense for the first 14 minutes. When John Lindstrom hit a three with 4:12 remaining in the half, the Vikings led 27-7. The Hylanders cut the margin by outscoring the home team 8-2 before halftime. But, the Vikings still had a 29-15 lead at halftime.
The first two minutes of the second half saw the Vikings extend that lead. Eric Sampson found Justin Novak streaking through the lane for a layup 30 seconds into the period. At the 16:15 mark, Sampson scored on a putback to give the Vikings a 33-15 lead.
At that point, the Hylander coaches knew they needed to change the pace of the game. They threw a full-court press at the Vikes. It worked, as Heights outscored NB 18-4 in the next six minutes. The scoreboard read North Branch 37, Guest 35 with 10 minutes remaining.
The Vikings regained some composure and, when sophomore guard Ryan Norman dropped a long three, the home team led 43-35 midway through the half. The Hylanders responded with their own three before Jake Chambers drove the lane for two and a 43-38 advantage with 8:25 to go.
The Vikings held the lead most of the rest of the way. However, after Novak used his speed to beat everyone down the court and scored a layup from the right side with 1:40 left, Heights came back with another shot from behind the arc. That tied the score at 57 with 42 clicks left.
With 25 seconds left, the Vikings grabbed a defensive board and got the ball to Chambers who found an open lane and dribbled up court. Two Hylanders sandwiched him at the time line. The whistle blew and NB fans expected to see the Viking's scoring leader at the freethrow line. But, the official called him for traveling and awarded the ball to Columbia Heights.
After a timeout with 13 seconds left, the Hylanders went for the last shot. The Viking defense forced Heights far out on the perimeter and into a long, low-percentage attempt. But, a Hylander came up with the 'bound and threw in an eight foot jump-hook that was in the air when the buzzer sounded. It fell through the net and left a stunned crowd to venture home in the frigid January night.
"We started out fast and they were having trouble putting the ball in the basket," Baumann said. "The second half was just the opposite. Whoever said they couldn't shoot sure led me astray. We didn't execute down the stretch and they knew they had a chance to win and they really attacked. We played much better on the offensive end until the final three minutes. Then, we didn't use our heads very well."
North Branch Scoring
Ryan Norman 6
Justin Novak 9
Nick Perrin 8
John Lindstrom 6
Jake Chambers 6
Bryce Hunter 12
Eric Sampson 10
Duluth Denfeld at NB
Saturday, January 14
Hunting for a midday victory, the Duluth Denfeld boys' basketball team, came to North Branch for a noon start. The circumstances seemed favorable for the Hunters because the Vikings were still tired and disappointed from a last second loss the night before. But, the Vikings survived a last minute barrage of long-range shots from the Hunters to take a 68-64 victory.
"On Saturday we played much better. In fact, we executed offensively the best since we played Duluth Central--maybe it's just that the Duluth teams bring out the best in us," coach Baumann commented.
The Vikings seemed to be showing fatigue late in the first half. They held a 33-27 lead with three minutes left when two quick Hunter baskets changed it to a one possession lead. However, Justin Novak, who seems to have the metabolism of the Energizer Bunny, outscored the visitors 6-2 down the stretch to take a 39-33 halftime lead.
That lead gradually disappeared in the second session. At the 11:00 minute mark, the Hunters had caught their prey as a Duluth hoop knotted the score at 45. At 9:45, they seemed ready to make the kill when they took a 49-47 lead.
But, the Vikings intercepted a pass intended for a seemingly open Hunter moving down the lane and found Novak near the Duluth bench. Novak turned on the jets and beat everyone to the Viking hoop. His layup created a 49-49 score midway through the half. Fifteen seconds later, Nick Perrin made a freethrow to put NB ahead by one.
After the Hunters tied it at 50, Jake Chambers found Novak standing uncovered behind the arc. Novak confidently buried the three. A minute later, he did it again. At 5:30, Perrin dropped a tre to give the Vikings a 59-52 lead.
Needing to stop the clock, the Hunters started putting the Vikings on the freethrow line. The strategy appeared to be working when several NB shooters failed to convert. The Vikings had missed five consecutive charity tosses when Chambers stepped to the line with 2:52 remaining.
Viking fans couldn't help thinking about the shooting slump that had plagued the team in recent games. Chambers calmed their fears by going two-for-two to push the lead to 61-52. Those two free shots started a string of 9-for-10 by Chambers, Novak and Ryan Norman.
The return to efficiency was very timely. The freethrows were needed because the Hunters started hitting from long range in the waning moments. They made four three-pointers in 80 seconds to make the score as close as it was.
Viking fans hope the shooting slump is over!
"We let them get back in the game. But, this time we were more under control at the end. We took care of the basketball better and made some free throws," Baumann added.
"In back-to-back games our depth really paid off. Even though some of our bench players might not have scored much, they gave us some valuable minutes. By executing better in the Duluth game we learned from our mistakes from the night before. We just have to build on this and get better over time," the coach concluded.
North Branch 39 29 68
Duluth Denfeld 33 31 64
North Branch Scoring
Jake Kovarik 1
Ryan Norman 2
Justin Novak 32
Nick Perrin 14
John Lindstrom 3
Jake Chambers 15
DJ Charley 1