Detroit Lakes head coach Markus Okeson brought his Laker boys basketball team to Bemidji with a specific plan and the Lakers implemented it effectively for all but the waning minutes when key turnovers turned into critical points for the Lumberjacks as the No. 1 seeds avoided an upset to the No. 8 Lakers 40-32 in a Section 8AAA quarterfinal matchup at Bemidji high school fieldhouse Tuesday, March 5.
“They had a very good game plan to slow us down,” Bemidji head coach Travis Peterson said. “The remedy for that is to shoot the ball better and we didn’t. They were able to stay in that zone and really slow the pace of the game down.”
Okeson had his team aim for 40 offensive possessions as DL ate up time on the clock not allowing a strong Bemidji transition offense to get moving.
“They didn’t even try to push the ball up the court themselves because they wanted to take time off the clock,” said Peterson. “There’s not a lot you can but but lock ‘em down and play D and get the rebound when they do finally pull the trigger.”
A Ben Stearns three-pointer gave DL a 7-4 early lead that blossomed to a 10-point cushion on a jump hook by Tate Kerzman at the seven-minute mark putting the Lakers up 18-8.
Okeson’s game plan was in full effect and DL was aided by Bemidji shots that found the cylinder often but would not drop.
Stearns hit from three again with four minutes to play in the first half to give DL its largest lead at 23-12 but the Laker offense went silent to halftime.
Bemidji finished the half on a 9-0 run to pull within two points at the break trailing 23-21.
The Lakers had the ball and a five-point lead with time winding down but a Jacob Bettcher turnover turned into a three-ball at the horn from Bemidji’s Jacob Beberg for a critical five-point swing that put a charge into the Lumberjack faithful.
Okeson praised the effort of his team and how they did everything the coaching staff asked of them in implementing a methodic game plan.
“We couldn’t have asked anything more,” he said. “They’re effort was tremendous. It came down to what a lot of games came down to during our season. A lot of close basketball games where we don’t make that shot or the other team comes down and bangs one in.”
The second half crawled to the midway point with Bemidji scoring on one Quincy Wilson free throw four minutes into the half. The Lakers stayed off the scoreboard until the 10:39 mark on a runner by Nate Cihak.
A minute later, Cihak hit from three to put DL up five at 28-23. The lead held up until 4:32 shown on the clock when Bemidji senior forward Cole Milz came off the bench and drained a three-pointer from the left corner to give the Jacks a 30-28 lead.
Junior guard Nick Snell followed up with a three from the same spot to give Bemidji a 33-29 lead and the Jacks polished off the win with a 7-3 run as missed shots and turnovers killed a late Laker rally.
“We just didn’t make that big basket or play that would put us over the hump,” said Okeson.
The Lakers were excellent in dictating tempo and keeping Bemidji out of their game, but the Jacks made defensive stops and hit big shots to advance to the semifinals.
“We limited possessions and shortened the game,” said Okeson. “It was just like last year, we wanted to come in and grind it out and make every possession count. That was our goal coming in.”
The Lakers went to Bemidji in 2018 as the six-seed and pulled off a blowout upset.
The Lumberjacks held DL to only nine points in the second half Tuesday night. All nine of those points were scored by Cihak. He led the Lakers with a dozen points. Bettcher scored 10 and Stearns hit for six.
Bemidji had no shooters in double figures but got contributions from nine different players led by center Spencer Konecne’s nine points.
Both three-point daggers by Milz and Snell were their only points of the game but both shots were huge in grabbing momentum and ultimately the victory.
“We’ve had a little lull in our shooting percentage in the last couple weeks,” said Peterson. “We’ve got to find that again if we’re going to compete, but I like the fight we had down the stretch. We did just enough to get it done.”
The Lakers’ season closes with an overall record of 11-16.
Bemidji (21-4) defeated DL three times this season and moves on to face No. 4 St. Cloud Apollo. The Eagles defeated No. 5 Fergus Falls 58-54 in overtime.
In the other half of the bracket, No. 2 Sartell-St. Stephen defeated No. 7 Little Falls 70-46. No. 3 Alexandria beat No. 6 Sauk Rapids-Rice 68-43.
DL 23 9 - 32
BEM 21 19 - 40
DL - Nate Cihak 12, Jacob Bettcher 10, Ben Stearns 6, Max Gunderson 2, Tate Kerzman 2.
BEM - Spencer Konecne 9, Quincy Wilson 6, Ben Hess 5, Colten Jensen 4, Silas Hess 4, Jacob Beberg 3, Cole Milz 3, Kade Peterson 3, Nick Snell 3.