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Winners of seven of last eight, young Grand Forks Central team rising in region standings

Knights improved to 8-4 overall with an 83-76 overtime win over West Fargo Horace.

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Grand Forks Central's Cole Wilber dribles the ball away from West Fargo Horace guard Aiden Green (1) in the first half of a boys basketball game at Grand Forks Central High School on Friday, January 20, 2023.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald
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GRAND FORKS — Grand Forks Central last won a North Dakota Class A boys basketball championship in 1996. The last time the Knights advanced to the state tournament was 2006.

But for the first time in a long time, this year's Knights team — without a senior in the starting lineup — is pushing to be considered in the top tier of the East Region.

On Friday night, Central won its seventh game in its last eight tries with an 83-76 overtime win over first-year program West Fargo Horace in the Central gym.

All five Central starters scored in double figures, led by 6-foot-4 post Erick Paye with 23 points. Leo Strandell and Jack Simmers had 19 points, while Ross Wilber had 12 points and sophomore brother Cole Wilber had 10.

"That's really what we've been all year," Central coach Dan Carlson said of the balance. "Any night or even a few minutes in a night can be your night to knock down shots for us."

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In the first half against Horace, the Hawks elected to double Simmers and leave Strandell, a 6-4 junior, open on the perimeter. Strandell responded with 15 first-half points including three 3-pointers.

As the defense changed in the second half, Central punched the ball inside to Paye, who had 16 after half including a powerful dunk.

"We're just playing hard and playing together and making our shots when they're there," said Ross Wilber, a 5-9 junior guard.

Horace's 76 points was only the second time all season the Knights have given up more than 70 points defensively.

Central's strength is on defense, where Paye is physically imposing underneath, Strandell is long, Simmers brings athleticism and the Wilber brothers are undersized but scrappy.

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West Fargo Horace forward Brycen Hoffer sinks an over-the-shoulder layup past Grand Forks Central guard Jack Simmers (1) in the first half of a boys basketball game at Grand Forks Central High School on Friday, January 20, 2023.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Entering Friday, Central had the best scoring defense in the EDC at 60.4 points per game. Teams shoot a league-worst 36.97 percent against the Central defense.

"Defensively, we've been good," Carlson said. "Tonight was hard because (Horace) is a different group with five perimeters to guard. In the second half, we defended better."

Central nearly let one slip away Friday night. The Knights led by 10 after a Ross Wilber 3-pointer with 6 minutes, 50 seconds left in the second half.

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But the Hawks finished on a 15-5 run as Central didn't hit a field goal in the final four-plus minutes of regulation. Moustapha Diomande's drive with 14 seconds left tied the game at 67.

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Grand Forks Central's Jack Simmers sinks a corner-three as West Fargo Horace guard Brady Westphal (2) closes in during a boys basketball game at Grand Forks Central High School on Friday, January 20, 2023.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Central pulled away in the extra session, sparked by a Simmers 3-pointer early in overtime. From there, Central, which was just 17-for-29 from the foul line, hit enough free throws to pull away.

"We made the right plays and didn't turn the ball over," Ross Wilber said. "(The balance) makes us tough to guard. You can't take one away to leave another open."

Central improved to 8-4 overall, sitting in fourth place in the East Region standings.

GF Central 83,West Fargo Horace 76, OT

Halftime: GF Central 39, West Fargo Horace 34

West Fargo Horace -- Carter Evanson 12, Aiden Green 4, Brady Westphal 5, Mike Siffoi 13, Brycen Hoffer 11, Carvin Fish 20, Moustapha Diomande 11

GF Central -- Jack Simmers 19, Ross Wilber 12, Cole Wilber 10, Leo Strandell 19, Erick Paye 23

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Grand Forks Central center Erick Paye snatches the ball away from West Fargo Horace forwards Carvin Fish, center, and Brycen Hoffer , right, on a first half rebound during a boys basketball matchup at Grand Forks Central High School on Friday, January 20, 2023.
Nick Nelson / Grand Forks Herald

Related Topics: GF CENTRAL
Miller has covered sports at the Grand Forks Herald since 2004 and was the state sportswriter of the year in 2019.

His primary beat is UND football but also reports on a variety of UND sports and local preps.

He can be reached at (701) 780-1121, tmiller@gfherald.com or on Twitter at @tommillergf.
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