Braham boys basketball coach Jeff Eklund watched his team miss a couple of key shots in the waning moments of its Class A Section 5 first-round contest against Hinckley-Finlayson on Thursday, March 18.
But he was confident his team could get the basket it needed to force overtime against the Jaguars when he called timeout despite his team trailing by 2 points and just 19.3 seconds on the clock.
“We had missed some easy shots,” Eklund admitted. “We have some guys who can get to the rim, so we decided to spread the floor and attack the basket. Caleb [Schusted] likes the moment, and he was able to knock down the shot.”
Schusted, a senior, drained a short jumper in the lane with less than five seconds left to force overtime. Then the Bombers dominated the extra session, outscoring the Jaguars 16-6 to claim a 74-62 victory.
Schusted was just one of the stars for the Bombers, finishing with 14 points. Several of the team’s leaders were unlikely heroes: For example, junior Jonah Johnson scored 15 of his team-leading 18 points after halftime to key his team’s comeback.
“Jonah is a big, strong kids who’s a phenomenal athlete,” Eklund said. “In the second half he decided he was going to be more physical than anyone else on the floor, and you could see him impose his will on people.”
Another emerging hero was junior Mac Nelson, who was asked to play extended minutes as several teammates fought through foul trouble. Nelson contributed 11 points, including a 3 early in overtime that helped his team take command of the contest.
“There have been games where Mac Nelson hasn’t played a lot of minutes,” Eklund said. “Because of foul trouble, and because of the way he played late in the season, he played some huge minutes for us – and he made a huge 3-point shot in overtime. He earned everything he got.”
The first half of the contest was tightly contested, with a number of lead changes before Braham forged a small lead late in the period. But Hinckley-Finlayson sank a shot from beyond half court at the buzzer to tie the game at the break, then used that moment to lead for most of the second half.
“We were up by 9 with a few minutes left, but Hinckley is a good team and coach [Dan] Kreft does a good job of coaching them,” Eklund said. “They kept battling, and we got a little careless with the basketball while they started making plays. That gave them a lot of juice entering the second half.”
Braham managed to stay close, allowing Schuster’s jumper to force overtime, then got early 3’s from Nelson and Hayden Lee to pull away.
“After those 3’s, we talked to our kids about remembering time and score,” Eklund said. “We talked about not settling for shots, and for getting a great shot – not a good shot, a great shot. And our guys believed.”
Two Bombers besides Johnson, Schuster and Nelson scored in double figures as Isaiah Lancrain had 13 points and Zach Yerke added 11.
Braham saw its season end two nights later when second-seed Upsala claimed a 62-57 home victory.
Rush City beats Kimball, loses to Melrose
The Rush City boys also opened tournament play with a home victory, knocking off Kimball 49-44 at home on Thursday, March 18.
“The game was very physical,” Rush City coach Tryg Thompson said. “Kimball has a good size across the line and a very good point guard. They play a much slower pace than we would like.
“We tried to pick up the tempo, but we had a difficult time doing that.”
But the Tigers picked up the win thanks to 12 points by senior Zeth Hahn along with 11 points apiece by junior Ty Stepp and sophomore Tony Daas.
Rush City, the No. 8 seed in the section, then saw its season end with a 84-44 loss at Melrose, the top seed in the section and the fifth-ranked Class 2A team in the state.
North Branch loses at Hibbing
The North Branch boys had a tough road, both literally and figuratively, in the Class 3A Section 7 tournament, dropping a 77-33 decision at Hibbing on Saturday, March 20.
Junior Trevor Johnson led the way with 19 points, but no other Viking had more than 4 in the loss to the team ranked sixth in the state in Class 3A.
“I just want to thank all of our players, coaches and managers for their efforts and perseverance this year,” North Branch coach Alex Kuhlman said. “And best wishes to our seniors, Nate Halseth and Adam Richards, and senior managers Luke Fisk and Tony Hartlieb.”
Cambridge-Isanti bows out
The Cambridge-Isanti boys team saw its season come to a close prematurely. The Bluejackets, who were seeded No. 6 in the Class 4A Section 7 tournament, were forced to forfeit their first-round contest at Forest Lake due to concerns surrounding COVID-19.