January 21, 2022 at 12:30 p.m.
The Vikings lost 83-72, but they led with just over six minutes left in the game, and just weren’t able to close out the unbeaten Tigers, who are ranked fifth in the state in Class AAA.
Princeton 83, North Branch 72
North Branch started the game a bit tentative against the tough competition, and that allowed the talented Tigers to grab the early lead. “Princeton is really good, and we weren’t playing within our capabilities to start the game,” Head Coach Todd Dufault said. “And Princeton is too good to not make us pay for that.”
Haydn Stay, who’s Princeton’s second leading scorer on the year, had a huge first half and led the Tigers on offense as they were up 45-34 at the break.
In the second half, North Branch came out with a bit more purpose after they regrouped. The Vikings rode Trevor Johnson and Andrew Thauwald as they chipped away at Princeton’s lead over the first 10 minutes of the second stanza.
At the six minute mark, a big three pointer from Adam Rehm gave North Branch their first lead of the game, and the North Branch home gym was rocking like it hasn’t in 15 years.
But, Princeton has been good the past few years, and they know how to respond in those types of environments, and they did just that. They gradually wore down the Vikings after they had expended so much energy coming back, and then made the plays down the stretch to retake an build their lead. Stay and Cooper Drews, who combine to score 40 points per game on average, made the big baskets for Princeton. The pair ended up scoring 45 points combined on the night.
“Princeton made the plays and deserved to win,” Dufault said. “But, I was very proud of our fight. We battled hard against one of the best teams in Class AAA. We will learn from this and prepare for another ranked team in Simley on Tuesday with hopes of starting another winning streak.”
North Branch had some foul trouble late in the game, and that contributed to Princeton overtaking them late.Johnson led the Vikings with 24 points. Thauwald had 17, Travis Schoeberl had 13 and Rehm chipped in eight.
North Branch 75, Becker 53
Earlier in the week, North Branch had set up the primetime match up by crushing Becker in another highly-anticipated match up. North Branch was 11-1 heading into the game and Becker was 7-2.
After the first half, it looked like it might be a game that comes down to the wire, but North Branch absolutely crushed the Bulldogs in the second half, outscoring them by 22 to run away with the game in fairly easy fashion.
“I thought we played our best basketball of the season in this one,” Dufault said. “Becker is really good, so to outscore them 42-20 in the second half, that is pretty amazing. We got a glimpse of what we are capable of doing, now it is striving for consistency which is really hard to do in basketball. “After being tied at 33 at half, we needed to bring more intensity and be more physical on defense. The guys did just that. To hold a team like Becker to 20 points in the second half, is not an easy task.”
North Branch has used different calling cards in different games this year to win, and this one was their staunch defense keeping the game close until their offense exploded. “It’s a compliment to the guys that played great team defense and rebounded well against a big, physical team,” Dufault said. “And we continue to get great balanced scoring on offense, which has been a big key.”
Johnson, Rehm and Carson Klein all had 16 points, and Schoeberl had 15. The four-pronged attack left Becker in the dust in the second half.
As the week began, the Vikings had climbed to a number seven ranking in Class AAA. It shouldn’t be affected much by the 1-1 week, as Becker is a quality win and Princeton is undefeated and ranked in the top five in the state. The week did much more to validate North Branch’s early season results, even with the loss.
The tough stretch of games continued earlier this week as Dufault had alluded to. The Vikings faced Simley, who started the week ranked eighth in Class AAA.
After that game, the Vikings will be into the meat of their Mississippi 8 Conference schedule, with games against Chisago Lakes on Thursday, January 20, and Monticello and St. Francis next week.