BOYS BASKETBALL: Warriors get by Northern Freeze 70-67
THIEF RIVER FALLS — Something out of the ordinary produced some extraordinary results for Red Lake on Friday as the Warriors got by Northern Freeze 70-67 in a wildly entertaining Minnesota Section 8A tournament championship game.
The two teams came into the game with identical 22-7 records, and they played liked it. The spread was never more than six points. None of the 2,162 fans who filled a good portion of the Ralph Engelstad Arena were looking for a refund at the end.
A smothering press fueled a 9-0 Red Lake burst that produced a 54-49 advantage on a Rob Mclain fast break lay-up with 10:23 remaining in the game.
Three minutes later, sitting on a 57-53 lead, Red Lake coach Roger White went against the grain by having his team abandon its fast break style in favor of a clock-eating offense – something that might have startled even the most die-hard Warrior fans.
White smiled when questioned about the about-face on offense down the stretch.
“We tried to spread it out a little,” he said. “We wanted to get their big guys out of the middle. It’s not something we normally do. We like to force the ball up the floor and play fast-pace basketball.”
Northern Freeze pushed Red Lake to the end.
Dustin Dahl scored from underneath to pull the Freeze within 66-64 with 56.6 seconds remaining, but a free throw by Ryan Holthusen and then a steal and three-point play by Mclain opened up a 70-64 Red Lake lead with 28.6 seconds left.
Cole Dahl knocked down a 3-pointer to keep the Freeze in it at 70-67, but there were just 5.8 seconds on the clock by then.
With 1.7 seconds showing, Red Lake went to the free throw line to clinch it. Two misses and a Cole Dahl rebound led to a length-of-the court baseball-like throw by the sophomore forward that opened eyes by hitting the side of the rim at the buzzer.
The end result: Red Lake is headed to the state tournament for the sixth time. The Warriors, however, haven’t been there since 2002.
Northern Freeze beat Red Lake 81-77 when they met back on Dec. 26 in the opening round of the Thief River Falls Northwest Russ Smith Holiday Classic. That was part of a four-game losing streak for the Warriors, who have won 19 of their last 21 starts.
It was the third appearance in the section final for the Freeze, beaten by Walker-Hackensack-Akeley 53-38 in the 2013 title game.
“Their press hurt us,” said Northern Freeze coach Zach Green. “It split us up on offense. It forced us out of our passing lanes and we ended up taking quicker shots than we wanted to.”
Red Lake started the game with a 7-2 surge, but could not build on that margin. Caleb Knutson found himself alone under the basket and his lay-up gave the Freeze its first lead of the night, 24-23 with 5:40remaining in the first half.
Red Lake answered with back-to-back 3-pointers by Mason Kingbird, only to have an 8-0 Northern Freeze run keep the Warriors from breaking away.
It was 36-34 Red Lake at the break.
Ryan Holthusen of Red Lake lead all scorers with 23 points. Trevenn Beaulieu and Mason Kingbird joined him in double figures with 12 and 10 points, respectively.
The Freeze offense was led by Cole Dahl with 20 points, Bevon Binstock 19 and Dustin Dahl 10.
Red Lake was 24-for-56 from the field (43 percent); Northern Freeze went 25-for-59 (42 percent). The Warriors made 14 of 23 free throws; the Freeze had a 10-for-19 night at the line.
A 37-27 Northern Freeze rebound advantage was negated by a 19-11 high figure in the turnover department.
“It was a great game,” said White. “Both teams played hard. It came down at the end to how bad the kids wanted it.”
A fifth-year cooperative program involving Tri-County in Karlstad and Marshall County Central in Newfolden, Northern Freeze was looking for its the first state tournament trip. Marshall County Central won a Section 8A title in 2005.
“Losing always hurts,” offered Green. “The effort was there.”
Class A state tournament quarterfinals will be played Thursday, March 13, at Williams Arena on the University of Minnesota campus in Minneapolis. A coaches’ vote will seed the top five teams. The No. 4 and 5 seeds will be matched up, with a blind draw then determining opponents for the top three vote-getters.