Boys basketball: Strong second half start guides No. 7 Orono to win over No. 5 Alexandria
Alexandria held an 8-point lead at halftime, but lights-out shooting to start the second half gave Orono the win at the Breakdown's Winter Lakes Classic on Saturday.
ALEXANDRIA - Things were looking good for the Alexandria boys basketball team at halftime in its game against the Orono Spartans at the Breakdown's Winter Lakes Classic on Saturday as it carried momentum into the locker room.
After a made three-pointer by Grayson Grove in the final moments of the first half, Alexandria had a 48-40 halftime lead.
But the Spartans flipped a switch in the second half as they outscored the Cardinals 49-30 in the second half and won 89-78.
"I thought I thought they did a good job extending our defense," Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. "Shooting the ball the way they do makes it tough to play our 1-2-2 defense. They did a good job, for the most part taking care of the basketball; we weren't able to turn them over. I thought we played good defense, but we weren't able to get them out of sync."
This loss dropped Alexandria, who is ranked No. 5 in Class AAA (Minnesota Basketball News poll), to 12-3 on the season, while Orono, who is ranked No. 7 in Class AAA, improved to 12-5.
Isaiah Hagen had a big night for the Orono offense as he led all scorers with 32 points, 20 of which came in the second half. Nolan Groves also had a big night for Orono, finishing with 26 points.
"I thought they got out in transition," Witt said. "In the second half, we weren't real great offensively on our end, and I thought that led to some transition buckets for them."
The Spartans turned a 48-40 halftime deficit into a 74-60 lead with 6:55 left in the second half.
"I think they did a good job of switching, and I thought they were physical," Witt said. "They were physical with Grayson Grove on the inside, and they defended us well on the perimeter. They have a solid trio of guards."
Alexandria trimmed its deficit to nine with made free throws and a three-pointer by Grove. However, Orono extended its lead to double digits again, and its lead never dipped below 11.
Orono's 89 points are the most an opponent has scored on Alexandria all season. The next closest is the 82 points Benilde-St. Margaret's put up against Alexandria in the season-opener on Dec. 2, 2022.
"In the games that we've lost, our opponents have scored 75 plus," Witt said. "I think we've just found out a lot about ourselves. I think for us, when we go against a strong opponent, we really have to be able to rely on our man-to-man defense and our zone defense. You can't sit in one thing against good players. They figure it out, and they find ways to attack it as Orono did. It really puts pressure on your post because they got a long coverage area."
On offense, Grove led Alexandria in scoring with 29 points on the night, while Chase Thompson scored 20.
"They have been a key part of our offense all season, and they open up a lot of things for other guys with their interior play and also being able to step out," Witt said. "For us, it's just being cognizant and aware as coaches and for those two guys when to get inside and when to step outside on the perimeter and play out there. I think they've done a good job of that and did do a good job of that here, but Orono has a nice team, and they did some things that were made it made it tough on us."
Thompson got the offense going for the Cardinals early in the game and was a big reason why they led by eight at halftime.
"Dawson [Roderick] sets me a bunch of screens," Thompson said. "My dad always tells me that you have to work off the ball to get open, and in recent games, I've created offense with offensive rebounds, but in this one, I used my teammates."
Saturday's home game was the first of four-straight home games in the span of nine days.
"I have no question that we'll respond to this loss well," Witt said. "I thought we played extremely hard against Orono, we just hit a couple of dry spells, and they took advantage of them. We'll be fine. We'll learn from this more than from a game where we win by 25 or 30 points. I was happy with how we competed, but we didn't execute some things extremely well. That stuff that we can clean up, and the kids have to continue playing hard."
The Cardinals' next home game is big as the Cardinals host the defending Section 8AAA champions, the St. Cloud Tech Tigers (10-8, 5-1 Section 8AAA).
St. Cloud Tech defeated Alexandria in the last year's section title game, but Alexandria has the 1-0 edge over St. Cloud Tech so far this year as it earned an 81-66 win in St. Cloud on Dec. 16, 2022.
Alexandria is the highest-rated Section 8AAA in the QRF rankings on Minnesota-scores.net, while St. Cloud Tech is the third-highest. Alexandria is 8-0 in section games so far in the 2022-23 season.
Alexandria's game on Thursday against St. Cloud Tech tips off at 7:15 p.m.
"I know we're going to respond well," Thompson said. "It's about keeping our heads held high, getting back to work, and getting back to the grind."
Orono - 40 49 - 89
Alexandria - 48 30 - 78
ORONO SCORING - Brady Wooley, 4 points; Riley Nelson, 3 points; Grant Gunderson, 9 points; Isaiah Hagen, 32 points; Kyle Kallenback, 15 points; Nolan Groves, 26 points
ALEXANDRIA SCORING - Grayson Grove, 29 points; Chase Thompson, 20 points; Jaxon Schoenrock, 11 points; Bralyn Steffensmeier, 11 points; Jacob Balcome, 2 points; Dawson Roderick, 5 points