The Orono Spartans visited St. John’s University in Collegeville for a holiday match-up against St. Francis.

This was one of two games scheduled as part of the Granite City Classic.

Orono entered the game looking to add to its four-game winning streak. Standing in the way were the Fighting Saints and 6-9 junior center Matthew Bothun, who was returning for his first game of the season following a pre-season injury. Sexton Arena on the campus of St. John’s University, provided a unique venue for the non-conference game.

The Saints came out firing with Bothun winning the tip and hitting a three pointer on the game’s first possession.

St. Francis dictated the early tempo and built a 10-2 advantage before the Spartans bench delivered a much needed defensive lift.

Spartans coach Barry Wohler recalled, “We started slow and our bench gave us a great energy boost on defense”.

A reverse lay-up by junior Grant Gunderson, fast break bucket from junior Kyle Kallenbach and three-point play from senior captain Sebastian Loder seemed to help the Spartans shift gears offensively.

Orono used the momentum to build a five point lead at halftime.

Junior guard Isaiah Hagen reflected on the unusual morning tip off, “Our resiliency really stood out for me. Playing an early morning game, we had to find a way to get our energy up.”

As the second half began, the Spartans used a 16-0 run to break the game open.

Gunderson shared, “One thing that made a difference was the intensity we brought to begin the second half. Overall, I thought the victory was keyed by our rebounding and pushing the ball up the floor.”

Once again the Spartans benefited from a balanced attack, getting points from nine players in all.

“I thought Grant Gunderson had an unbelievable floor game with 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.

“Isaiah Hagen had a really solid game as well with 23 points, including 7 for 7 from the line and 5 assists with no turnovers,” Wohler commented after the game. “This year has been fun because it feels like a couple different guys step up offensively each game, but the entire team has done a great job defensively.”

To go along with Hagen’s 23 points, Loder scored 14, Kallenbach 11 on 5-8 shooting, senior captain Jake Farrell and Gunderson with six each, sophomore Riley Nelson with five, senior captain Jack Kopesky and junior Zach Close with four each and senior Cohen Kellogg with three.

The Spartans outrebounded the much taller Fighting Saints 40-25. Orono also shared the ball in transition with a 26-15 advantage in assists.

The Spartans, now 5-1 on the season, seem to be building a special bond. After the game, Hagen reflected on the team, “The chemistry with this year’s team is great. We’re not just teammates, we’re good friends, which makes it easier to go out and play for one another.”

Gunderson added, “I think as long as this team continues to play together as a team, we can compete with anybody.”

Orono’s initiation in the Metro West conference will begin early in the New Year.

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