January 30, 2020 at 2:27 p.m.
Chisago Lakes knew going into their county rivalry with North Branch that if they could use their size to their advantage, they were going to be in a great spot to beat the Vikings.
The plan worked to perfection, even with North Branch shooting lights out to start the game and grabbing the early lead playing on Thursday, January 23 at Chisago Lakes.
The Wildcats, led by Beau Backes and AJ Koehler on the inside, outrebounded North Branch 51-22 and doubled them up on points in the paint, 44-22.
“That cannot happen,” NB Head Coach Alex Kuhlman said after the game.
The Vikings hit multiple three pointers early, with three by Carson Klein, and that’s usually a great sign. They took the lead, but it only capped out at four at 26-22 because of the Wildcats’ work down low.
Backes, who has struggled at times this year and just returned from an injury, had his best game of the season. He punished North Branch down low on the offensive end with a bevy of moves, and even broke free for a dunk that ended with him crashing to the floor. He popped back up instantly though and got back on defense, followed by a sigh of relief from the Chisago Lakes sideline.
Nick Wasko also had his best game of the year and at one point late in the first half, he scored on three straight possessions on effective dribble-drives.
Those two players allowed the ‘Cats to end the first half on an 18-4 run and gave CL a 40-30 lead going into the break.
“Beau and Nick had great energy on the court which led to us building that lead before halftime,” CL Head Coach Josh Flug said. “Both were playing within the system, yet aggressive and taking the ball to the hoop. They are two very good athletes that when they get going, it's hard to stop.”
In the second half, Koehler, who has been a monster all year, got going and he started to work on the undersized Viking post defenders.
The Wildcats were able to keep the cushion around 10 points for the most part. But, North Branch refused to quit. The deficit was still 10 with about one minute left, but through some free throw struggles by CL and some good shots by NB, they trimmed the lead to 72-69 with 11 seconds left.
North Branch was able to swipe a steal and get two shot attempts off to tie the game, but they missed both, forcing them to foul and CL proceeded to hit the last two free throws to ice the game. “I thought we did a good job controlling the second half well,” Flug said. “They hit a few shots at the end and it did get closer than we would’ve liked.”
“We just were never able to get over the hump in the second half,” Kuhlman said. “I was proud of them for continuing to battle.”
North Branch played well on the perimeter, forcing 27 CL turnovers and outscoring the ‘Cats by 30 from beyond the arc. “Unfortunately, the shots in the paint hurt us bad,” Kuhlman said.
Besides the huge rebounding and points in the paint gap, CL also had 17 second chance points to only three for North Branch. Backes and Koehler combined for 34 points and 22 rebounds.
Guards Noah Lasiuta, Ryan Sanvik and Wasko also combined for 29 points and 21 boards.
When CL can get backcourt play like that to go with Backes and Koehler, they can be a dangerous team.
For North Branch, Trevor Johnson has continued to shine, scoring 22 points. Carter Whitman had 18 points and eight assists and Anthony Riley came off the bench to chip in 11 points and seven boards.