Back on the floor where they won the Section 8AAA title last season, Bemidji boys basketball built a 12-point halftime lead and rode out a foul-plagued second half to a 81-72 win at Brainerd on Monday evening.
The win was the third in four days for the Lumberjacks after wins against Cloquet on Friday and Duluth Denfeld on Saturday, giving Bemidji four straight victories heading into its final regular season game on Thursday at home against Detroit Lakes.
Early exchanges between the teams were close and filled with good defense. Out in transition, Colten Jensen was able to rattle in a runner that gave Bemidji its first lead at 6-4.
Brainerd led for small intervals in the opening minutes, but its last lead of the game would be at 13-12. Nick Snell drilled back-to-back threes, with the second helping the Lumberjacks open up a slim five-point advantage.
A switch to zone on defense helped the Jacks come up with a series of steals, with Quincy Wilson picking up two of them. The first came on a jump into a passing lane beyond the perimeter, leading to an easy layup.
His second steal gave Bemidji the chance to quickly set up in the half court, with Jensen getting underneath the basket for a leaning wraparound layup that came with a foul.
After going on a 8-1 run to take an eight-point lead, Bemidji saw the run end on a slam from Max Lelwica from Brainerd. Gavin Luksik quieted the home crowd at the other side of the floor with a tough finish through contact, converting the free throw to give the Jacks a 32-23 advantage.
With Brainerd struggling to make threes and getting bottled up inside, Bemidji pushed the lead to 14 before settling for a 39-27 edge at the break. It was an advantage that quickly jumped to 16 in the second half, as Jensen ran the floor early and often to hit Brainerd in transition.
The Warriors entered the night on the back of six consecutive games that had been decided by four points or less, though they had won only the most recent of those. Displaying the toughness that had put them in those close games, Brainerd trimmed away at the deficit despite a mounting foul count, getting back within nine at 55-46. Isaiah Biehn responded with a straightaway three to keep Bemidji up by 12.
By now, both teams were in the bonus with fouls and well on their way to each being in the double bonus with seven minutes still remaining. While Wilson was dropping in free throws to keep Bemidji ahead, a few stops on defense allowed the Warriors to put together a 13-3 run to close within 65-61 at one point with around five minutes remaining. After Lelwica scored in the post to cut the lead to five, Matt Arel answered right back at the other end as Bemidji got through pressure in the back court.
With contact continuing to be whistled closely on both ends of the floor, Bemidji’s free-throw shooting was sound all night. The Jacks went 29/36 at the line in the game and had a 26/28 mark from their guards alone–paced especially by the cool shooting of Wilson, who made 15/16 in scoring a game-high 26 points.
Wilson was frequently at the controls handling the ball late, including zipping an entry pass for Luksik to finish off inside to take the lead back to 10.
Jensen notched 17 points, closing within 18 of 1,000 for his time on the BHS varsity, while Luksik scored 13 and Silas Hess provided 10.
Griffin Rushin posted 16 off the bench for Brainerd. Conner Powers chipped in 13 and Owen Davis scored 12 before fouling out–one of three Warriors to exit on fouls in the second half.
The fouls were a major story in the game, as the teams combined for 45 personals with a staggering 28 coming in the second half. The Warriors alone were whistled for 17 second-half fouls as they attempted to mount a comeback with tight defense.
The JV game also went to Bemidji in a 58-49 final.
Bemidji’s fourth-straight win has the Lumberjacks at 17-6 overall and puts them in strong position to secure the #2 seed for the Section 8AAA playoffs next week. QRF seeding will be confirmed on Saturday. Their regular-season finale with Detroit Lakes will tip at approximately 7:30pm on Thursday immediately following the Bemidji girls’ Section 8AAA quarterfinal game with St. Cloud Apollo. The broadcast can be heard on KBUN-FM 104.5 and KBUN1 online.
Postgame interview with Bemidji head coach Travis Peterson: