Coming off its first victory of the season and then a loss in the South St. Paul Tournament, the North Branch boys basketball team got a big 59-51 conference win over rival Chisago Lakes Area.
Said coach David Anderson:
“It feels like we have been working towards this game for the past eight months. I am very proud of our guys for how they played tonight, and the progress that they have made throughout this season. We played our most complete game of the season tonight, specifically on the defensive end, and most importantly, played with a confidence that we hadn’t seen yet this year.
“We started off the game well, but only after Chisago scored on their first three or four possessions to jump out to a 9-3 lead. After that point, we tightened down our defense, holding Chisago to 11 points over the next 13 minutes of the game and taking a double digit lead towards the end of the first half.
“We didn’t feel great going into half-time with a nine point lead, because we missed so many layups in the first half. We felt like we should have been up by at least 20 points and knew that we left the door open for a dangerous Chisago team to make a run in the second half, which is exactly what they did.
“The second half was a battle back and forth until Chisago went on a run with about six minutes left cutting down the lead to two points by the time there was only two minutes left in the game. We calmed our guys down and then finished the game strong by scoring on the next three possessions to ice the game away.
“The key to the game was our defensive play, and Brandon Thauwald was undoubtedly our star. Despite giving up 6 inches in height and 30 pounds, he played unbelievably well against Houfer, almost completely taking him out of the game and holding him to just two field goals. We knew they liked to try to pound the ball inside the pint to Houfer and if we took that aspect away, it would take them out of what they wanted to do.
“We also had great help side defense when they did get deep penetration, and that is a credit to our wing players Jon Blomquist, Dylan Dahle, Isaac Lewis and Dillon Harms who all played great on the defensive end of the floor.
“Travis Van Elsberg also had his best game of the year despite the fact that Chisago had someone playing high pressure defense on him the entire game. His 21 points were scored very efficiently, and he made an unbelievable reverse lay-up late in the second half when Chisago looked to have him completely bottled up which seemed to really deflate their defense. Matt Blomquist also played great for us in big minutes off the bench and has really come into his own as a sophomore.
“This win will hopefully give us the confidence to know that we can play and compete with any team in our conference. We have a big next two weeks with several of the top teams in the conference coming up to North Branch. We will try to use this win to springboard us forward as we take on the rest of our schedule.”
Holding on for first win
North Branch competed in the South St. Paul Tournament Dec. 27-28, and the boys earned their first victory of the season over South St. Paul 35-23.
“We finally broke through and finished out a game against a very scrappy team,” said coach Anderson. “We talked before the game about playing with a lead and extending it once we got one. Our guys did that well, closing out the first half on a 10-2 run to extend the lead to double digits.”
“In the second half we jump out right away and held a 15-20 point lead throughout the second half, never giving SSP a chance to climb back in it. It’s a credit to our guys, they showed the ability to jump on a team and keep them down, which is a situation we have not faced many times this year.
“We had a great shooting performance from Cody Knobbe who really found a way to get open jump shots and score the ball on his way to a career high 27 points. SSP really keyed on Travis, and he did a great job of not trying to do too much and letting the other guys take the scoring load.
“We also had a big performance off the bench from sophomore Brandon Steffensen who has been the biggest surprise for us so far this season. He has given us huge minutes in the post and is playing great coming in for Thauwald and Lewis.”
The Vikings then lost 33-28 to Prescott, Wis., in the tournament.
“We just played a team who played more physically and aggressively than we did,” noted coach Anderson. “And Prescott deserved to win. On the positive side, Dylan Dahle has continued to grow since joining the starting line-up last week. He had his best game of the year and really gave us an offensive spark that we needed. Aaron Biederman also came in and gave us great defensive play, something we badly needed against their quick guards.”
The North Branch boys basketball team is tied for fourth in the North Suburban Conference with a 1-1 conference and 2-7 overall record. The Vikings will host the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights at 7:15 p.m. Friday, Jan. 11, before hosting the Irondale Knights at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15.