Despite shooting woes, No. 5 L/E/M edges past No. 8 Rugby in overtime
This day was going to come, but the Cardinals didn't know when that was going to be. Sitting at 6-0 on the season, shots were falling in almost every game, but there was going to be a point in the season, whether the team was playing well or not, that shots were just not going to fall. That game came Saturday against the Panthers.
The stakes were already high as L/E/M was welcoming in No. 8 Rugby, the Cardinals' second top 10 opponent since besting then No. 6 Shiloh Chrisitan in late December. The shooting woes were abundant early on as the Panthers would go up on the Cardinals 20-10 early. However, when shots weren't falling, the Cardinals turned to their defense, and it paid off.
As basketball is known as a game of runs, the Cardinals went toe to toe with the Panthers for five periods of play. As No. 5 Langdon/Edmore/Munich's (7-0, 0-0 Region 4) defense leveled its offensive play, the Panthers' heavy fouling gave the Cardinals the offensive conversions they needed. Shooting 24-32 from the line, with the biggest shots coming from senior Grant Romfo in overtime, the Cardinals would edge past No. 8 Rugby (8-2, 3-0 Region 6), 59-55.
"We played hard for sure," Cardinals head coach Andy Haaven said. "We've been talking about that there's going to be a night where we don't shoot well and it just happened to be today. But we proved to ourselves that if we play hard, good, smart, and solid defense, we can play and beat anybody just with that aspect. Luckily, late in the game, we got a couple of shots to drop and we made our free throws."
The defensive effort came up big under the net on both ends of the court. The Cardinals were on top of almost every Panther second-chance opportunity and when the ball would clink off the rim, L/E/M would send it back up. With the shooting being off, the Cardinals rebounding efforts on the offensive end would end up sending them to the line. After going down in the first quarter, the points at the line lifted them back into it.
Rugby out fouled the Cardinals 10-2 in the first half with the Panthers big man Cole Slaubaugh recording 3 fouls in the first 14 mins, seeing his time-limited throughout the game. In the first half, the Cardinals would shoot 12 times from the line, downing nine. The heavy fouling by Rugby in the first half gave the Cardinals a little more room to grind in the second half, pumping the team's defensive effort.
"It's good that we didn't have anybody in foul trouble at halftime, but that also meant that we could get after it a little bit harder," Haaven said. "I thought we dug in in the second half and we really made them [Rugby] work for anything that they got. That's what we're going to have to do because we don't have a lot of size, so we're going to have to do it with effort."
Like most nights, leading the offensive effort were seniors Grant Romfo, Simon Romfo, and Jagger Worley. The trio has brought muscle, speed, and shooting to the court for the Cardinals, and found ways to keep the lights flashing on the scoreboard when points were harder to find. Simon shot five field goals, two 3-pointers and drained 7-9 from the charity stripe to finish with 23. Grant only had one field goal and one 3-pointer but downed 11 points at the line to finish with 16. Grant's performance at the line came in big as he went 2-2 late in the fourth quarter to send it to overtime and shoot in overtime to seal the win.
The Cardinals don't have the deepest bench and leaving starters out for so long could result in fatigue. Late in the game, Simon was heavily sweating and Grant, who already had a bandage on his head, was visibly perspiring as well. However, while they may look tired, Haaven said that the duo will go as far as they need to go to win.
"They just play," Haaven said. "I'm not worried about their conditioning or their strength because I know we could've gone another overtime and I don't know if they would've broken a sweat. They're just the type of kids where they don't worry about it and just play."
Worley played a major effort into the Cardinals defensively charged attack as he would drain 5-6 at the line and lay in three field goals for 14 points on the night. However, Worley's biggest tally came with under two minutes left in overtime. The Cardinals had the lead, but a Panther 3-ball could tie the game. With the Cardinals' shooting hitting droughts throughout the game, Worley made it rain from the top of the arc, putting L/E/M up 57-51 in overtime to all but close out the game.
"Jagger was not shooting well and it was bothering him, and he finally made one" Haaven said. "It was a big thing for him to relax and play. He had gotten looks the whole game but just couldn't put one in. I'm just happy he was able to put one in overtime to kind of seal it."
The trio of the Romfo's and Worley did do a lot of work on the night, glued to the court in ways, but Haaven made sure that all eight guys within their rotation were getting action. The seniors make up a lot of the Cardinals scoring, but underclassmen did play a role in the effort. Sophomore Marcus Kingzett would hit a 3 to extend a L/E/M lead to 10 points in the third quarter. Sophomore Carter Tetrault played a major role in the Cardinals rebounding under the net, making passes out to L/E/M's big scorers
The Cardinals are a squad that has been ranked in the top 10 throughout the entire season but has slowly clawed its way to the top. In its next three games, if successful, L/E/M could make an argument for the No. 1 ranking in the state. Tuesday they host No. 7 Dunseith, another undefeated squad who is red hot early on in the season. L/E/M gets Rolla Thursday before getting a whack at No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan.
The Indians and the Cardinals for the past two seasons have been favorites to win the region. Last January, Four Winds eeked past the Cardinals by four points but would blast them 74-43 in the regional tournament, forcing them to play for third place. However, with another big win under its belt, L/E/M continues to build its confidence moving forward and has seen first hand that when they aren't 100 percent, it can still compete with some of the top teams in the state.
"These wins prove to ourselves that we belong where we are," Haaven said. "It's a confidence booster and we're going to be tested again Tuesday against Dunseith. We just have to keep doing what we're doing. We love going up and down, and we're well-conditioned. We just need to continue to do the little things well and keep improving every day."
No. 5 L/E/M 59, No. 8 Rugby 55
No. 5 Langdon/Edmore/Munich - 10, 13, 16, 17, 8 - 59
No. 8 Rugby - 20, 3, 13, 15, 4 - 55 OT
Langdon/Edmore/Munich (7-0, 0-0)-- S. Romfo 5 7-9 23, G. Romfo 1 11-14 16, J. Worley 3 5-6 14, Kingzett 0 0-0 3, Tetrault 1 1-3 3. Totals 10 24-32 59.
Rugby (8-2, 3-0) -- Welstad 3 1-1 13, Walker 4 0-0 11, Bundy-Smith 5 0-1 10, Slaubaugh 0 0-0 6, Mueller 1 0-0 5, Schneibel 1 3-4 5, Foster 1 0-0 5. Totals 15 4-6 55.
3-pointers: Langdon/Edmore/Munich 5 (S. Romfo 2, G. Romfo 1, Kingzett 1, Worley 1). Rugby 7 (Welstad 2, Slaubaugh 2, Mueller 1, Walker 1, Foster 1).