'It was pretty much a tale of two halves': Rockets score 42 in second half to blast past Dakota Prairie
Depending on who you ask, there were five different teams on the court on Friday at New Rockford-Sheyenne school. The Rockets in the first half, the Rockets in the second half, the Knights in the first half, the Knights in the second half, and the youth team at halftime.
Out of everyone on the court, the youth team had the most consistency as the blue team dominated the white team. As for New Rockford-Sheyenne and Dakota Prairie, the Knights would roll off of heavy shooting from junior guard Cade Stein to take a point lead into the locker room at halftime. Shots were falling and things were running smoothly for Dakota Prairie.
In the other locker room, the Rockets a struggling to launch, with their effort falling short at the rim. However, the tables turned so quickly, those sitting down might've suffered from whiplash as a 24-3 lift-off in the third quarter would lead the Rockets (5-3, 2-0 Region 4) past Dakota Prairie (4-4, 1-1 Region 4), 64-34. Turning a one-point deficit into a 30-point win narrowed down to one main factor for the Rockets: effort.
"Our intensity really picked up in the second half on the defensive end, and limited them to 11 points in the second half," Rockets head coach Tyler Cook said. "If you can do that, you're going to win a lot of games. Our effort overall just picked up a lot. We got some easy buckets on offense and that just got us going."
While it was a full-team effort to get things going again, the offensive effort was lit up by senior guard Johnny Grann and senior center Evan Ulrich. Grann, whose only potential scoring tally in the first half came off of a missed free throw, drained three 3's in the second half, finishing with 15 points in the half. As a team that has focused a lot of it's scoring efforts inside the paint, due to having a height advantage, Grann has acted as a sparkplug from deep for NR-S this season.
According to Cook, Grann's burst from downtown was the end to a scoring drought from 3-point range for the guard. His back-to-back 3's in the third quarter would open the gates for the Rockets to build their lead up to 20 as Ulrich would follow Grann's quick 6 with a putback to end the third quarter with the Rockets up 46-26.
"Johnny has been a little bit of a slump lately from 3-point and it was great to see him jump out of it tonight," Cook said. "We know he can shoot it, but a lot of it is confidence right now."
While Grann found his groove in the second half, Ulrich began to find space to score that wasn't there in the first half. While he did score nine points in the first half, the 6-foot-7-inch center was going up against two, sometimes three, Knights under the net. In the second half, it was the outside shooting that allowed Ulrich to open up his game according to Cook. He would down 15 points in the second half to finish with a team-high total of 24. He would compliment his scoring margin with 6-8 shooting at the charity stripe.
"We made a couple of outside shots so they can't just put four guys in the paint," Cook said. "That opened it up and gave us some room to work down there. [Nick] Berglund did a heck of a job down there too, giving us energy and put back those offensive rebounds."
The surge lit up the east stands and the Rockets bench, with players jumping out of their chairs and firing arrows every time a Grann 3 fell. However, right behind the Rockets bench and about 12 feet to the left of their celebrations, there was a different feeling from the Knights. Things were clicking in the first half and then the fouls came. Before they knew it what looked like what was going to be a tight matchup to the final buzzer quickly fell apart for Dakota Prairie.
"It was pretty much a tale of two halves," Knights head coach Thomas Trostad said. "The first half we did pretty much everything we wanted to do. We boxed out, which has been a big emphasis this week, and had that one-point lead going into the half. In the third quarter we got into foul trouble, they went on a 9-0 run, the wheels fell off and we couldn't find them after that."
In the first half, Stein, who has been the Knights offensive engineer throughout the season, was pacing Dakota Prairie. He would drain two 3-balls in the first half and continue to charge the net for nine points to the Knights lead. He would receive a helping hand from junior guard Garrett Haakenson, who would many times kicked off the Knights drive, downing four points in the first half.
"When he's [Stein] rolling, we're rolling," Trostad said. "It kind of runs through him and that's kind of how we've done basketball at this program for a while. When they locked down on him more and the shots don't fall, we need other kids to step up."
Fouling played a factor in limiting the Knights' completion at the net, only scoring three points in the third quarter off of a 3 pointer from senior forward/guard Blake Hanson. Specifically, the fouling impacted Dakota Prairie's big man in senior forward/center Garrett Syverson, who fell into foul trouble in the second quarter, where the Rockets began to build up a lead before the Knights took over.
Dakota Prairie's second half was looking a lot like NR-S's first half as shots were not falling for the Knights from anywhere on the court. The scoring would pick back up in the fourth quarter, but the deficit was too much. Trostad said in game situations where shots aren't falling, the Knights need to mix things up in order to re-spark Stein.
"It's new with a lot of kids this year," Trostad said. "We don't have the varsity experience we did last season because we graduated a bunch of kids, so they're still getting comfortable in that role. We just need to find that happy medium where we find offense in other ways. It kind of hurts sitting out our tall guy because he runs that second offense."
A Dakota Prairie squad still getting used to the varsity court has still made some strides heading deeper into the season. Trostad said that it's about putting the good things together to compete for a full game. Last season, the Knights fell short of a district title to Four Winds/Minnewaukan. While it's a different squad this season, they believe that they can get to a place by the end of the season to compete with everyone.
"Our district is top-heavy with Four Winds up there, but spots two to seven are pretty even," Trostad said. "We want to be in there to push for that regional birth and get that win. There are a lot of talented teams at the top there, but if we put everything together by that time, we'll be there."
As for the Rockets, the win is a major booster for the squad as they head into a hefty challenge on Monday against No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan. In a game, where the winner could dictate who runs Region 4, NR-S is looking for the same energy from the second half spread from tip-off to the final buzzer.
"We just gotta go down there a compete," Cook said. "I want to see that effort and energy we had in the second half, and just see what happens."
New Rockford-Sheyenne 64, Dakota Prairie 34
New Rockford-Sheynne - 10, 12, 24, 18 - 64
Dakota Prairie - 14, 8, 3, 8 - 34
New Rockford-Sheyenne (5-3, 2-0) -- Ulrich 9 6-8 24, Grann 2 2-1 15, Berglund 5 0-0 13, Jensen 3 0-1 6, Johnson 2 1-2 5. Totals 21 9-12 64
Dakota Prairie (4-4, 1-1) -- Stein 2 2-4 12, Haakenson 2 0-0 7, Hanson 0 0-0 6, Syverson 2 0-0 4, Jorde 1 0-0 2, Lenz 1 0-0 2. Totals 8 2-4 34.
3-pointers: New Rockford-Sheyenne 4 (Grann 3, Berglund 1). Dakota Prairie 5 (Stein 2, Hanson 2, Haakenson 1).