Seniors lead the way as Knights fend off Owls
Knights get a 62-58 statement win at home over the Hancock Owls. Grant Beuckens led West Central Area with 22 points and nine rebounds to help the Knights extend their winning streak to three.
Great basketball teams are often filled with players who aren't afraid to have the ball in big moments. The West Central Area boys basketball team has at least three of them.
In Thursday night's 62-58 win over Hancock, the Knights (3-1) were led by their senior captains as Grant Beuckens, Brady Reeve and Tate Christenson combined for 47 of WCA's 62 points to hand the Hancock Owls their first loss of the season.
"They were just incredible tonight," WCA head coach Kraig Hunter said. "I was telling the young guys that this is what seniors are like, and you can tell they've been in those moments. We give out an award called 'Mr. Clutch' at the end of the year, and (Beuckens) won that last year. Those three are our captains, and they've been around the program for a long time. They're all great kids, and this means a lot to them. They want the ball in those end-of-the-game situations."
The Knights held to a nine-point lead with under two minutes to play before Hancock's two stars sparked a comeback. Junior center Matt Thompson and senior guard Preston Rohloff combined for 33 points and made some timely shots down the stretch. The Owls cut the deficit to two before Christenson's pair of free throws iced the win for WCA.
"They banked in one three, and they had Rohloff and Thompson step up," Hunter said. "They're probably two of the best five players in our section. They made shots, and that's what good teams do. We kind of knew that coming in, and we told our kids this is going to come down to the wire. We talked about how it's going to come down to every little possession and every loose ball."
The first seven minutes of the game were back-and-forth until the Knights jumped out to a 23-15 lead. Along with getting hot from three in the opening minutes, WCA defenders forced difficult shots and offensive fouls to swing the momentum in their favor.
"Defense is what the Knights live off of," Beuckens said. "Defense is our philosophy, and those plays are huge. They're the best plays to get because they provide so much energy."
WCA took a 30-23 lead into the half before extending the lead to 10 early in the second. The 10-point lead was the largest of the night but was short-lived. At 6-foot-7, Thompson was a challenge for the Knights in the paint from start to finish.
"Brady Reeve did a good job of pushing him around down there, even though he scored 22 points," Beuckens said. "He's good; there's no denying that."
After being shut out in the first half, Rohloff scored all 11 of his points in the final 18 minutes. Hancock's preliminary scorers looked frustrated by the Knight's defense throughout the night.
"Every game is so important from here on out. We only get 17 of these. It doesn't matter who we are playing because every game counts towards what we are working for this season. We have to show up and play every night."
- Grant Beuckens, WCA senior guard
"In all four of our games, our defense has had energy all the time," Hunter said. "I'm really happy with how we work on defense. The thing is, we lost two 6-foot-5 guys from last year, so we have to hunker down on defense and play strong on the boards. Not having that length forces us to play in good position, and that's what I've been really happy with."
Thursday night was one of those regular-season games with a playoff atmosphere, which is to be expected in a loaded Section 6A field. Beuckens is excited to make the most of every opportunity in this condensed season.
"There are not many fans in here with the whole Covid thing, but it got rowdy in here," Beuckens said. "It felt great. Every game is so important from here on out. We only get 17 of these. It doesn't matter who we are playing because every game counts towards what we are working for this season. We have to show up and play every night."
After a frustrating opening-season loss against Ashby, the Knights have run off three-straight wins. Game-by-game, Hunter sees his guys taking the steps in becoming a section-title contender.
"We knew this group would be good," Hunter said. "They do a lot of the same things that last year's team did well. They're good three-point shooters, and the only thing we're missing is the length. In the first game against Ashby, we didn't play well. I don't think they played very well either. We played (Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley) and had a few lapses. We played Ortonville and were sharp for more than three minutes. We need to play start-to-finish for 36 solid minutes."
HANCOCK 23 35 - 58
WCA 30 32 - 62
TEAM TOTALS- WCA- 21-43 FGA, 9-18 3PA, 11-18 FT; HANCOCK- 21-39 FGA, 7-21 3PA, 9-13 FT;
WCA- Grant Beuckens 22 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals; Brady Reeve 14 points, 5 rebounds; Tate Christenson 12 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals; Cole Anderson 5 points; Ryder Staples 4 points; Jacob Strunk 5 points; Xander Bontjes 2 rebounds;
HANCOCK- Matt Thompson 22 points, Brandon Kellenberger 12 points, Preston Rohloff 11 points, Kody Berget 5 points, Adam Shaw 5 points, Luke Joos 3 points