No. 6-seeded Detroit Lakes defeated Bemidji for the second straight game and booted the No. 3 Lumberjacks out of the first round of the Section 8AAA playoffs on their home floor with a huge start and a convincing 60-48 victory Tuesday night.
“Our defense forced a lot of tough shots and we were so good for so long on possessions that they just settled for some shots, at times,” said DL head coach Markus Okeson.
The home rims were unkind to the Jacks even when they did get open looks. The Lakers held Bemidji to just nine points in the first half.
“We came out really strong on defense and it was really great to hold such a good team to nine points in a half,” said senior Jackson Haire. “I think we surprised ourselves.”
Haire was a focal point of the offensive end in the first half as Okeson exploited a hole in the Bemidji defense that sent Haire to the rim wide open on multiple backdoor cuts.
“We knew when we reversed the ball they focus so much on our five-man Logan Pratt that sometimes our four guy, if we can drag their big guy away from the basket, it’s a favorable matchup for us,” Okeson said.
Haire scored 10 points in the first half, all from close range.
“It wasn’t anything special; I just happened to be wide open and they got me the ball for easy layups,” he said.
DL opened up a 7-0 lead and held Bemidji off the scoreboard for the first four minutes until Linaes Whiting drained a three. Aside from two free throws by Jace Peterson, Bemidji would not score from the field again until the two-minute, 18-second mark trailing 18-7. DL ended the half on an 8-2 run on a pair of buckets by Haire and Jake Bettcher.
“They’re the most improved team in our section by far,” Bemidji head coach Travis Peterson said. “They’ve won 13 out of their last 16, well probably 14 out of 17 now. They’ve really figured something out. They have really nice players, and they run a really nice system.”
The Lakers led comfortably 26-9 at the break and went to the locker room with a load of confidence.
“I think we knew we could play with them from last game,” said Haire.
DL ended the regular season with a tight 69-66 victory over Bemidji at home.
Bettcher and Peterson traded buckets to open the second half and Conner Froke stepped into a three-pointer, banking in his only shot of the game to go up 20 points 31-11. Froke’s make was one of those shots that can almost make a team too comfortable.
Bemidji was desperate and turned up the defensive pressure. The Lumberjacks responded with a 26-14 run to pull within eight points 45-37 with six minutes to play.
The Lakers refused to slow down and work the clock. DL continued to attack.
“There were a lot of bodies and some tough plays where we mishandled the basketball and took a quick shot here and there, but we’re the type of team that wants to stay aggressive,” Okeson said.
A minute ran off the clock before Tate Kerzman gathered a rebound on a Pratt miss and DL went back up 10 points with the putback 47-37.
The Jacks would get no closer than nine points thanks to Kerzman who was money from the free throw line going 8-8 at the stripe to calmly put the game on ice.
“It was great getting him the basketball and he was really solid with it,” Okeson said. “We told him he was going to get fouled, just step to the line and he hit them when we needed them.”
Kerzman did more than that taking all the air out of Lumberjack gym and inciting a happy Laker crowd that made the trip.
“The first couple I was nervous but I’ve always been confident in my shot,” said Kerzman. “It felt good.”
The Lakers shortened the bench for the playoff opener but not by design. Okeson stuck with what was working with the players on the floor to advance to the semifinals.
“It’s kind of how the game played out,” said Haire. “Our coach always tells us that we have multiple pieces to our team and some games you go with the guys you go with and if it’s working don’t change it.”
After a tough start to the season, DL is one of the hottest teams in the region winning 14 of the last 17 games to improve to 16-11.
“We started 2-8 and since then we’ve been hot,” said Kerzman. “We beat Bemidji (17-9) back-to-back and it’s tough to do that to a good team. We are very confident. We believe in ourselves and we believe in each other.”
Bettcher and Haire led the Lakers with 17 points each. Kerzman scored 10, Pratt six, Jake Kerzman five, Froke three and Tanner Doppler added a bucket.
Peterson was the lone Jack in double figures with 16 points.
The Lakers will face No. 2 Sauk Rapids-Rice (19-8) at Halenbeck Hall on the campus of St. Cloud State University Saturday, March 10 at 7:30 p.m. The Storm advanced with a close 59-57 victory over No. 7 Sartell-St. Stephen. SR-R will also be looking to get DL back for knocking the Storm out of the playoffs last year and DL will be out for revenge also. The Lakers lost in Sauk Rapids 77-60 in early February.
“We want to get them back; they got us,” Kerzman said. “They’re going to come at us strong because we knocked them out last year.”
In the other half of the bracket, No. 1 Fergus Falls defeated No. 8 Little Falls 71-53 in Fergus. Matthew Johnson scored 22 points to lead the Otters. No. 5 St. Cloud Apollo eliminated No. 4 Alexandria on the Cardinals’ floor 75-60 to earn a semifinal matchup with the Otters in the early 6 p.m. game in St. Cloud Saturday.
DL 26 34 - 60
BM 9 34 - 48
DL-Jake Bettcher 17, Jackson Haire 17, Tate Kerzman 10, Logan Pratt 6, Jake Kerzman 5, Conner Froke 3, Tanner Doppler 2.
BM-Jace Peterson 16, Linaes Whiting 6, Jacob Beberg 5, Silas Hess 4, Spencer Konecne 4, Colten Jensen 4, Quincy Wilson 3, Ryan Bieberdorf 3, Joel Lindsey 3.