Boys basketball: Length pays dividends for Hillcrest Lutheran Academy in win over West Central Area
A 38-24 rebounding edge helped Hillcrest Lutheran Academy earn a four-point win over West Central Area on Monday.
BARRETT - In a back-and-forth battle, the Hillcrest Lutheran Academy Comets took a late 48-47 lead over the West Central Area boys basketball team with a clutch shot by Justin Peterson with one minute to go.
With free throws, key defensive stops, and big rebounds, the Comets earned the 51-47 in Barrett on Monday.
"We just couldn't make shots," WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. "We got a lot of good looks, but we just couldn't put the ball in the basket. I thought we were pretty darn good on defense. After this, you've just got to keep getting better."
On two occasions in the game's final minute, the Comets missed one of two free throws but held things up on defense.
The Knights trailed 50-47 with 11.2 seconds to go, the Comets missed a free throw, but on the rebound, the Knights were whistled for a foul, which led to the Comets scoring the final point of the game to seal the win.
"We got it tied up and got the stop, but they got the rebounds," Hunter said. "They got like three or four putbacks. We got everything right on defense, but we didn't secure the rebounds."
The Comets held a 38-24 rebounding edge in the game and corralled 17 offensive rebounds.
"17 offensive rebounds gives them 17 more possessions in the game," Hunter said. "Their length makes them very difficult to box out. When you box out that kind of length, you have to drive them because otherwise, they can just jump right over you."
The Knights trailed 6-0 to start the game but would go on to lead 23-20 at halftime, in part thanks to Ben Bye and Bryce Kjesbo's 16 combined points in the first half and solid defense.
"We played really good defense, and we didn't give them anything easy," Hunter said.
The Knights led 23-17 in the final stages of the first half, but with an Eric Bjorndahl three-pointer at the end of the half and 11 straight points to start the second half, the Comets swung things in their favor.
"We didn't play good situational basketball," Hunter said. "You can't start games down 6-0, take the lead and then give up a 14-0 run to end the half and start the second half."
The Knights shot 16-for-46 from the field (35 percent) and made two three-pointers, while the Comets shot 19-for-51 from the field (37 percent) and connected on four three-pointers.
WCA shot a perfect 12-of-12 at the free throw line while Hillcrest made nine-of-13.
Ben Bye led the WCA offense on Monday with a double-double, 14 points, and 10 rebounds.
"He just keeps getting better and better, and he's really a dominant player for us," Hunter said. "We need him out there a lot."
Kjesbo finished with 10 points on the night. Kjesbo and Nas Dotts led the Knights on defense with four steals, while Cole Anderson had a team-high six assists.
Hillcrest's Noah Brumfeld had a game-high 16 points on Monday, while Luke Christensen finished with 11.
WCA now has a 13-6 record (4-1 Section 6AA) so far this season, while Hillcrest sits at 14-3 (Class A).
Coming into Monday, WCA was tied for the second-highest QRF ranking (along with Paynesville Area) out of the eight Section 3AA - North teams on Minnesota-scores.net.
Paynesville Area (15-4, 5-2 Section 6AA) and WCA were tied for the second-highest QRF (24th overall in Class AA) ranking out of the 16 teams in Section 6AA, behind Eden Valley-Watkins (13-4, 3-2 Section 3AA).
"Our section is really wide open," Hunter said. "There's going to be a lot of teams from number one through seven there who could flip-flop in the last two weeks. I don't think seeding will be the biggest deal. The team which plays good defensively, who takes care of the ball offensive, and who rebounds well usually comes out on top."
The Knights' (7-3 West Central Conference) next test is on Thursday at 7:15 p.m., on the road against Melrose (11-6, 6-4 WCC), whom they beat in Barrett 68-35 on Dec. 20, 2022.
"Our conference is tough, and we just have to take things one game at a time and get better every day," Hunter said.
Hillcrest Lutheran Academy - 20 31 - 51
West Central Area - 23 24 - 47
HILLCREST LUTHERAN ACADEMY SCORING - Luke Christensen, 11 points; Gaby Swedenburg, 2 points; Noah Brumfeld, 16 points; Justin Peterson, 9 points; Sean Berge, 6 points; Preston Berge, 4 points; Erik Bjorndahl, 3 points
WEST CENTRAL AREA SCORING - Ben Bye, 14 points; Cole Anderson, 6 points; Jacob Strunk, 8 points; Mitchell Dewey, 7 points; Nasir Dotts, 2 points; Bryce Kjesbo, 10 points