Boys basketball: Early threes sink Alexandria, send Otters to another state tournament
The Fergus Falls boys basketball team waited for the biggest of three games against Alexandria this winter to play their best game against the Cardinals.
The Otters (25-4) had lost twice during the regular season to Alexandria (21-8) but came out ready to go in the Section 8-AAA title game at St. Cloud State University.
Seven first-half threes for Fergus Falls set the tone as the Otters held off a second-half rally by the Cardinals to punch their ticket to state with a 64-46 win. It marks the first time since the 1916 and 1917 seasons that the Otters have won consecutive section titles.
“We were just ready in practice and working every day,” Fergus Falls senior forward Matthew Monke said after a double-double of 21 points and 16 rebounds. “We were ready for this one. From the end of last year, this was always our goal was to make it back, so it’s a big deal.”
The Cardinals did what they could to overcome a 41-26 deficit at the break. A three from sophomore guard Trey Hoepner had it all the way down to a seven-point game at 45-38 near the 10-minute mark.
Fergus Falls had an answer all night, though. Otters’ senior guard Andrew Christensen drove the baseline a few possessions after that Hoepner three for a bucket that stretched the lead back to 11. The Cardinals never got it back to single digits again.
“They were just hitting shots tonight,” Alexandria senior guard Spencer Hockert said. “The first couple times (we played them) we were playing good defense and their shots weren’t falling. Tonight, after we picked it up after the first part of the game we were playing good defense, but they just kept knocking down shots.”
The Otters finished 9-of-20 from three and the damage was done in the first 18 minutes. They finished the first half 7-of-12 from beyond the arc by pushing the tempo and leaving the Cardinals scrambling to find the open shooter.
Alexandria shot 57 percent (12-21) to Fergus Falls’ 53.6 percent (15-28) in that first half but still found itself down by 20 at one point after just one of those makes came from three.
“They came out really hot, which a team like Fergus can do with the shooters they have,” Alexandria senior guard Jaran Roste said. “When we came in at halftime, we tried to focus on just chipping away. Getting it to 10 at the 12-minute mark and then getting it to five with six minutes left. We started making those runs, but with as good of a team as Fergus is, they could counter with runs of their own.”
Last year’s 63-60 win in the section title game over Alexandria came behind 34 points from guard Nathan Rund. The Cardinals held him to 0-for-10 shooting on Thursday and just two points, three rebounds and six assists.
“He’s a great player, and he can do that kind of thing,” Monke said of Rund’s performance a year ago. “But we’re at our best when everyone is playing well.”
The Otters showed that with nine players scoring and three finishing in double figures. Junior forward Harrison Christensen had 14 points and five rebounds, while senior guard Elijah Colbeck added 12 points and five assists.
The Otters also controlled the glass, outrebounding Alexandria 37-25, with 12 of those coming on the offensive end. Monke had a double-double by halftime of 12 points and 11 rebounds.
“It’s just weird because the first two games we killed them on the glass,” Hockert said. “It was just flip flopped from the first two games. (Monke) was battling down there. You have to give him credit for it. It wasn’t just us not rebounding. He was working hard tonight.”
Those two regular-season wins against the Otters gave the Cardinals hope that they could make their eighth state appearance in program history this winter.
“We thought that this was our year,” Hockert said. “We beat them twice during the regular season. We were confident going in. It’s tough.”
The Otters finished as the Class AAA runner-up a year ago. They will go in unranked this time after not appearing in the latest Class AAA polls from the Minnesota Basketball News. Fergus Falls will wait to see who it gets in the seeding process and hope it can maintain its hot shooting that led this team to another section title.
“They’re a great team,” Roste said. “They’re going to do big things at state again this year. It’s not like we lost to a bad team. They deserve all the credit they get.”
For the Cardinals, they head into the spring having fallen one win short of their ultimate goal, but not without putting together another memorable season along the way.
“This was the funnest season I’ve ever had,” Hockert said. “This is a great group of guys. All of them I’m able to call my brothers, genuinely. I’m going to miss playing with them. It was a great season for us and Alexandria basketball. I think we left it better than we found it, and that’s what we wanted to do.”
FERGUS FALLS 41 23 - 64
ALEXANDRIA 26 20 - 46
TOTALS - Fergus Falls - FG - 22-48; FT - 11-21; Three-point FG - 9-20; Rebounds - 37; Assists - 14; Steals - 8; Turnovers - 11; Alexandria - FG - 18-44; FT - 7-16; Three-point FG - 3-16; Rebounds - 25; Assists - 9; Steals - 8; Turnovers - 13
ALEXANDRIA - Jake Drew - 2 points, 6 rebounds; Hoepner - 6 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal; Robert Anderson - 5 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 1 steal; Hockert - 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists; Roste - 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals; Michael Kuhn - 1 point; Michael Empting - 2 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal; Keaton Kvale - 2 rebounds; Bryce Ludwig - 1 point, 1 rebound; Justin Balcome - 2 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals; Cody Faber - 2 points, 1 steal
FERGUS FALLS - H. Christensen - 14 points, 5 rebounds; Spencer Breen - 5 points, 1 rebound, 2 assists, 1 steal; Monke - 21 points, 16 rebounds, 3 steals; Rund - 2 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists; Colbeck - 12 points, 3 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals; Matthew Johnson - 3 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal; Austin Stanislawski - 2 points; Jacob Marvel - 2 points; Andrew Christensen - 3 points; Ethan Olson - 1 rebound