A young Alexandria boys basketball team got even younger on Thursday in the home opener with two-year starter and senior point guard Trey Hoepner not able to go due to an injury.
That forced some other Cardinals to take an even bigger initiative, and they delivered with a dominant second half to coast to a 58-26 win over Rocori (0-3).
“I think our defensive intensity was really good throughout the night,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “Then we started to get some baskets to go and attacked the basket. From the films we saw of Rocori earlier this year, they’ve looked like a really good basketball team and made shots. I was happy with how we contested and forced difficult shots.”
The Cardinals allowed just 10 points in the second half. They led 28-16 at the break and then proceeded to go on a 28-6 run over the first 10 minutes of the second half to erase any ideas of the Spartans going home with a win.
Witt was not sure how long Hoepner might be out, but said it’s something they are being cautious with early in the season so nothing lingers. Defense is something that can give Alexandria a chance without Hoepner in the lineup, and the Cardinals took that to heart.
“That’s something we always harp on is the defensive intensity,” Witt said. “There’s going to be nights when your shots aren’t falling, but your defense should always keep you in basketball games. With Trey coming back as a returning leading scorer, there are other guys we feel are capable, but it’s going to be a little bit of a feeling out process.”
The Cardinals (1-2) learned a little bit more about themselves against the Spartans. Junior guard Carrson Jones handled the ball a lot in Hoepner’s absence and was aggressive on his way to 13 first-half points. He knocked down three triples and led all Alexandria scorers with 15.
“I just wanted to impact the game by pushing and getting to the rim to help our team get the ‘W,’ Jones said. “The first shot felt pretty good, so I decided to keep shooting and they fell.”
Jones also had a team-high four assists as guys started knocking down shots around him in the second half. Sophomore guard Colton Roderick had 13 points on 5-of-6 shooting to go with seven rebounds. Sophomore forward Treyton Thompson had 10 points and five rebounds and senior Anders Hedstrom had eight points.
“It’s a good opportunity to get out there and prove ourselves and get our names out there,” Roderick said of relishing a new role on varsity for many of these players. “To show them who we are and how good we can be. We had high expectations for all of us to be good, so we just want to go out there and be our best.”
Like every season, Witt said it will take some time for guys to settle into exactly what their roles are on this team. Hoepner, forward Adam Pohlen and Hedstrom are the only three seniors on the roster, so there are plenty of opportunities for underclassmen to leave their mark.
“We talk to the guys about where we kind of see them at, but until you see it on the court, it takes a little while,” Witt said. “A kid like (junior guard) Cody Branson, we don’t need a lot of scoring from him. He’s capable, but he’s done a good job of just being a tough defender and rebounding and taking the scoring opportunities when they’re there. That’s an example of the guys who aren’t necessarily going to score a lot, but they have an important role.”
With so many young athletes getting experience this season, this is a group that feels it can grow into a contender down the road.
“We can contend with anyone we want to,” Jones said. “We just have to play our best at all times. We’re going to be really good. We just have to play within ourselves and play as a team. We have one goal and that’s to win.”
After a couple of close losses to Moorhead and St. Cloud Tech to start the season, the Cardinals felt good about pulling away from the Spartans on Thursday. Now it’s about maintaining that kind of play going forward.
“We’ve shown in these first three games that we can be really good at the defensive and offensive end at times,” Witt said. “We just have to be consistent. The talent is there, but we need to learn that you have to do it every possession. For us, it’s the consistent focus on every possession.”
ALEXANDRIA 28 30 - 58
ROCORI 16 10 - 26
ALEXANDRIA TOTALS - FG - 21-50; Three-point FG - 6-18; FT - 10-19; Assists - 9; Blocks - 3; Rebounds - 35; Steals - 7; Turnovers - 11
ALEXANDRIA - Adam Pohlen - 2 points, 1 block, 3 rebounds; Cody Branson - 3 points, 2 assists, 3 rebounds; Josh Wegner - 2 points, 1 block, 4 rebounds; Carrson Jones - 15 points, 4 assists, 4 rebounds, 2 steals; Kristen Hoskins - 5 points, 5 rebounds, 2 steals; Anders Hedstrom - 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals; Colton Roderick - 13 points, 7 rebounds; Treyton Thompson - 10 points, 3 assists, 1 block, 5 rebounds, 1 steal; Joshua Kietzmann - 1 rebound