The Devils Lake boys basketball team improved to 5-4 in the conference with a big win over Fargo North Friday evening.
By Harry Lipsiea
Heading into Christmas break, Devils Lake boys basketball head coach Derek Gathman noted that his team was still finding itself. At 2-4, the Firebirds had played some of the EDC's toughest squads very close. Battling some injuries early on, the team went into the break knowing that its best basketball was ahead.
Coming out of the break, it seems as if the Firebirds are starting to find its identity. For coach Gathman, the team's 3-1 stretch in its last four games has started one thing; defense.
"We have been telling the boys that's got to be our thing," the coach told the Journal. "Defense travels and can be consistent night after night. You can't win games, especially in the EDC, just on offense alone."
On Friday evening, Devils Lake had a big challenge in front of itself. Fargo North came to town with a 7-2 record overall and in the conference. Led by senior forward Siman Sem, the Spartans have been ranked much of the season.
Featuring one of the state's top offensive players, the away team was held in check most of the game against an inspired Devils Lake defense. With 10 minutes remaining in the game, the Spartans had scored just 27 points.
Fargo North battled back late to put up more points, but ultimately fell 76-62 to Devils Lake. Sem finished the game with 22 points. He scored 10 of those points in the final five minutes of action when the team wasn't in striking distance.
It was an impressive defensive effort to shut down Sem and the Spartans, Gathman noted. He was pleased with the defense of the entire team as well as personal performances by Zach Dahlen, Patrick Bracken and Cordell Yoder. The trio each were responsible for guarding Sem at different times.
"I was so proud of our defense. It was an incredible effort by the entire team," Gathman said. "And I can't say enough about Zach, Patrick and Cordell for being up to the task. They made sure there was nothing easy for him all night. It's a credit it to him for scoring 22, because I thought the defense of those three guys was great."
With the victory, Devils Lake improved to 5-4 in the EDC.
Leading 33-19 at the half, the Firebirds jumped out a huge start in the second half. Behind jumpers by Nik Desai and Hunter Fee along with a Dahlen three, the Firebirds led by 18. The Firebirds kept it going from there as a three-point play by Preston Reierson and free throws by Fee gave the team a 50-27 advantage.
Credit Fargo North as the team didn't back down. Buckets by Matt Pietsch and Cameron Sherrard cut into Devils Lake's lead a bit.
A drive and a bucket by Sem got Fargo North within 11. The Firebirds answered back as jumpers by Jacob Mertens, Jagger Miller and Dahlen along with a shot from beyond the arc by Desai gave the team a 68-50 lead late. The Spartans kept charging and got things as close 12 late.
But free throws and big stops helped the Firebirds earn the 76-62 victory.
Devils Lake was led by a balanced scoring effort. Mertens finished with 18 points. Dahlen scored 17 points and Hunter Fee added 15 in the win.
In addition to the tough defense played by Devils Lake, the squad had an improved offensive effort from its prior game against West Fargo Sheyenne. The team played a bit more focused and didn't settle for the first shot, Gathman said.
"I thought we were a lot more aggressive. The guys did a good job of attacking the basket," the coach said. "It was a good effort on both sides of the floor. I thought our boys worked their butts off and played smart against a really good team."
Devils Lake hosts No. 2 Fargo Davies Tuesday.
"Another huge EDC matchup against a great team," the coach said. "We are going to have to match our intensity from tonight and keep leading with our defense."