January 12, 2012 at 8:44 a.m.
The North Branch boys basketball team took on the Cooper Hawks early last week, and although they aren't the state powerhouse they used to be when they had Rodney Williams, they still pose a big threat offensively with Rashad Vaughn, one of the top scorers in the state.
Vaughn didn't fail to capitalize, either, on what has been a porous defense at times this year at North Branch.
Cooper raced out to a 40-16 over North Branch in the first half, and the game was basically decided already. "Robbinsdale Cooper really gave us a good look at the type of fast, physical play that we will see almost every night in the North Suburban Conference," Head Coach David Anderson said of the harsh realities of playing in a stacked conference. "We really did not come to play in the first half and it showed on the floor as Cooper played with more energy, enthusiasm, and passion."
The guys stepped up and played a bit better in the second half, but Cooper was also trotting out some of their reserves. "We had good showings from our two big men, Brandon Thauwald and Isaac Lewis, who both played hard and physical the entire game,' Anderson pointed out. "However we need to have everyone playing hard and physical the entire game to be a competitive North Suburban team."
Thomas Kinsella was the only Viking in double figures as the senior guard scored 13 points. Leading scorer Travis VanElsberg was held to six points on the night, and Aaron Biederman added six. Cooper's Vaughn led all scorers with 33 points on the night.
"Before the game we told our guys this was going to be a measuring stick game, to see how much progress we had made," Anderson said. "After the game, it is obvious we still have work to do, but I am confident the we have the right guys who are willing to do that work."
St. Francis 68, North Branch 55
The boys began their weekend with a North Suburban Conference tilt against St. Francis.
Kinsella, who seems to be in full swing after missing the opening stretch of games because of a bum ankle, was firing on all cylinders for North Branch, and really kept them close in the game.
It was 31-27 in favor of the Saints after the first half, but the Vikings were right there in striking distance.
In the second half, Kinsella's shooting cooled a bit, but North Branch was still within reach because Thauwald played some excellent defense on the St. Francis big men in the low post.
As the clock winded farther down, though, the Vikings were losing time as St. Francis built a bit of a lead. The Saints ended up sealing it with a few minutes left when they went up by double digits. They downed the Vikings 68-55.
"I was very pleased with the way our guys played tonight, we fought hard with a very tough St. Francis team and put ourselves in a position to win the game down the stretch," Anderson said. "Of course, it is disappointing that we did not come away with the win, but optimistically we showed that we can play very well when we work together."
Kinsella ended the game with 25 points and VanEslberg had 12 in a nice supporting role.
"We also had big efforts from Colin Ehrnriter and Tyler Knobbe who both stepped up and made big contributions," Anderson said. Ehrnriter had seven points and Knobbe had six. "As a team we just need a little more experience so we can stretch a lead in the second half instead of letting our opponent make a run. We are learning every week and getting better ever game."
Duluth Denfeld 86, North Branch 35
Although they had taken a step forward against St. Francis, the Vikings took a step back when they were beating by 51 points by Duluth Denfeld.
The Hunters, though, are a tough Class AAA team and are 8-2 on the season with their only two losses coming to ranked teams.
Denfeld had an insurmountable 40-point lead at halftime over the Vikings, and they only extended it in the second half, despite a steady stream of reserves making their way into the game.
"We really got outclassed today up in Duluth against an excellent team. Denfeld has an extremely tall, strong, and athletic group of players who were just to much for us to handle," Anderson said bluntly after the contest. "Our guys did an excellent job of playing hard the entire game, especially when most teams would get frustrated and quit, our guys didn't and continue to fight until the end. "
Nobody scored in double digits for North Branch. Kinsella and Riley Jacobson led the way with eight points each, and Tyler Knobbe had seven points.
"I feel like our guys learned a lot from the game and we can take positives from the game to help us down the stretch in conference play," Anderson said as the Vikes enter the bulk of their conference schedule.