Alexandria boys basketball coach Forrest Witt knew exactly what he wanted to see out of his guys with Moorhead in town on Tuesday and the Cardinals coming off a loss where they didn’t play well against Sartell-St. Stephen last Thursday.
“The biggest thing was play together and play with energy,” Witt said. “That was the message after the game Thursday against Sartell, and then we had two really intense, spirited practices leading up to tonight.”
Witt got exactly the response he wanted as Alexandria beat the Spuds by a 74-59 final.
“I think that the results are a little bit of a reflection of that and some guys looking in the mirror and making some changes and just competing and playing for one another,” Witt said.
Things had not been easy on the schedule for Alexandria in recent weeks with the Cardinals coming into Tuesday’s game trying to get back on track after three losses in four games.
The Spuds, a Class 4A team, entered the night 8-5 but had chances to win every one of those losses. All five came by one possession or in overtime against Maple Grove (9-2), Osseo (5-5), Bemidji (7-4), Minnetonka (7-5) and Minneapolis Henry (9-3).
“It was a really important game,” Alexandria junior guard Colton Roderick said of facing the Spuds. “We were kind of down, and Moorhead is a really good team, really talented. We just really emphasized teamwork and working hard the whole game. The games we’ve been losing, we’ve kind of gotten off to bad starts, so we emphasized getting out right away and going.”
The Spuds were dealt a blow early when senior 6-foot, 6-inch forward Drew Hagen, who will play at Minnesota State University-Moorhead next year, went down with an injury when he hit the floor hard on a foul at the rim.
Hagen had nine quick points in the game, but Alexandria expanded the lead in his absence. Roderick’s layup with two seconds left in the half gave the Cardinals a 33-28 edge at the break.
Alexandria’s start to the second half proved to be the difference. That lead grew to 52-36 with 10:40 left after a Wyatt Odland three. The Cardinals led by as many as 19, and they needed that once Moorhead came to life.
“Any time you start a half, you want to get some momentum early because that can carry into the rest of the game,” Witt said. “I thought we did that at the start of the second half and the end of the second half after they made a run to counter.”
The Cardinals got stuck on 55 points for a long stretch of time as the Spuds cut their deficit to as little as 57-51. Roderick countered with a free throw on the next possession and then a drive and score that halted the Moorhead momentum a bit. He finished with a game-high 22 points.
“I just kind of got in attack mode because I saw they were coming out really hard to trap,” Roderick said. “I saw open gaps in a close game at the end, and I just felt I needed to go in and punish them in the lane.”
Moorhead got 17 points from Brady Walthall and 10 from Trey Feeney, but the Cardinals depth shined through. Four guys finished in double figures with Carrson Jones adding 15, Kristen Hoskins 14 and Erik Hedstrom 10 behind Rodericks’ 22.
“We can be one of the top teams in the state if we’re all scoring, all playing as a team and all going hard on defense,” Roderick said. “We just have to get that every game. Once we get that, we’re going to be a really, really good team.”
Witt liked what he saw from all his players on Tuesday. Ethan Patience also had eight points, and the energy his guys played with defensively was a step in the right direction after suffering through a recent skid.
“We had a lot of guys step up,” Witt said. “Carter Steffensmeier gave us good minutes off the bench in the first half. Wyatt Odland in the second half. I thought Carrson Jones played probably his best game of the season. Defensively, he was really good. He made it tough on their perimeter guys, and our team defense was solid as well.”
The Cardinals are 8-4, but they were also being honest with themselves about who some of those wins have come against.
“Looking at our schedule, everybody on there is capable of beating us,” Witt said. “But if we break down the real quality teams that we’ve played this year, after tonight we’re 2-4. That’s something we’ve talked a lot about with our guys is when you play a good team, you don’t have much room for error.
“We have to play together, and I think it’s a learning curve for our guys and really realizing that’s what it’s going to take. I don’t think anybody is trying to do something we don’t want to see, but it’s truly an understanding that you have to dial in and play every possession.”
The Cardinals did that much better on Tuesday than they did just five nights earlier. The end result was a double-digit win against a winning Class 4A team that should look good come section seeding time later this year.
“Moorhead is a very good program,” Witt said. “(Head coach) Tyler (Bormann) and their entire staff does a great job up there with their guys. That’s a good team. We just defended very well and made things difficult, and I think we did some things offensively that they struggled to guard. It was fun to see the response from our guys.”
ALEXANDRIA 33 41 - 74
MOORHEAD 28 31 - 59
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Carter Steffensmeier - 2; Carrson Jones - 15; Ethan Patience - 8; Kristen Hoskins - 14; Erik Hedstrom - 10; Wyatt Odland - 3; Colton Roderick - 22
MOORHEAD SCORING - David Lindell - 3; Belind Alemadi - 3; Trey Feeney - 10; Quentin Hegg - 4; Blake Walthall - 5; Drew Hagen - 9; Donnavin Hinsz - 6; Brady Walthall - 17