Card boys' basketball: Surging into second
The Cardinal boys' basketball team proved once again that it is never out of a game in a 51-46 win over rival Willmar on Tuesday night.
Bouncing back has been the story of the young season for a team that started 0-3 but now sits alone in second place in the conference standings after running off five straight wins.
Alexandria trailed 37-27 with almost 10 minutes left in the second half on Tuesday. The Cardinals made some adjustments and held Willmar to just nine points the rest of the way. That secured a win against a team that had a 4-1 league record coming into the night.
"We came back," senior guard Parker Giroux said. "We were down in the first half. We didn't play very well and weren't under control. We kind of regrouped at halftime and came out with a new focus to take care of the ball and play under control, and it worked for us."
It was a change on defense that proved to be the difference. Willmar hurt Alexandria with dribble penetration that helped build a 25-18 lead at the break. Alexandria switched to a 1-3-1 zone after halftime and forced Willmar to shoot from the outside.
Willmar adjusted well during an 8-0 run that led to a 10-point lead midway through the second. Jimmy Unger hit two threes during that span, but his team could not sustain that as Alexandria forced contested jump shots the rest of the way. Willmar finished the night just 5-of-22 from behind the three-point line.
"That was huge," Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. "I think that was the big difference in the game, that we were able to adjust and get into our 1-3-1, and they struggled. They couldn't penetrate and had some looks from three-point land, but they were contested shots and we were cleaning up the glass. It was definitely a momentum turner."
Alexandria outscored Willmar 24-9 over the final 10 minutes. Dan Gorghuber was forced to the bench with foul trouble for much of the second half but hit a three from the top of the key that tied the game at 38 apiece with a little less than five minutes remaining. After a defensive stop, Eric Carlsen connected on a jumper from the left baseline that gave his team its first lead of the game.
It was a lead that Alexandria never relinquished. The Cardinals went 7-of-9 from the free throw line in the final 63 seconds to secure the win. Giroux made 5-of-6 during that stretch to finish with a team-high 15 points. Carlsen added 10 and hit some timely shots for his team during that second-half run.
"It was a big win," Carlsen said. "Any win we can get is a good win. When you're playing at home, you have the crowd behind you and it helps so much."
The victory set the stage for a big early season game against conference-leading St. Cloud Apollo tonight, Friday. The Eagles come to Alexandria with a perfect 6-0 record against league opponents. One of those wins came against Sartell-St. Stephen in its holiday tournament at the Granite City Classic. Apollo's only losses came against Annandale and seventh-ranked Orono.
"Coming into this [Willmar] game, we were tied for second in the conference," Giroux said. "So we're right up there. We play the top team on Friday and we'll see how that goes."
It took some adjustments to get to this point. The Cardinals' 18-point loss to Little Falls on their home court could have sent this team into a tailspin. Instead, Alexandria learned from that game and has itself right where it wants to be heading into the bulk of its CLC schedule.
"Coming into the season, we felt like we had a team that could compete for a top spot in the conference, if not compete for a conference championship," Witt said. "We thought that was realistic. We would have to play good basketball. Yeah, we lost three games early, but that didn't take away from what we wanted to do...we adjusted a little bit, and I think the kids realized what it was going to take if we wanted to get to our goals. Right now, we like where we're at, but we still have a lot more work to do."
WILLMAR 25 21 - 46
ALEXANDRIA 18 33 - 51
ALEXANDRIA LEADERS - Giroux - 15 points; Carlsen - 10 points; Chris Curry - 4 points; Mitch Ronning - 8 points; Dylan Galligan - 7 points; Dan Gorghuber - 5 points; AJ Anderson - 2 points
WILLMAR LEADERS - Jeremy Schendel - 15 points; Jimmy Unger - 14 points; Jake Rambow - 5 points; Mo Mohamud - 2 points; Jake Damhoff - 2 points