Lake Region State men, women open season with bang over Williston State
It's been a long time coming for the Royals. After limited summer court time, a season postponement to January 2021, and nine combined scrimmages, both Lake Region State College men's and women's teams opened their seasons up against Williston State at the Sports Center. While neither team hasn't played a competitive game in 10 months, neither squad wasted time in getting back into the groove of things.
In the women's game, the Lady Royals would pop off from 3-point range, seeing sophomore guards Maddy Leaf and Kayla Byrne lead the offensive effort with 15 points, jumpstarting LRSC to a 62-53 win over the Lady Tetons. In the men's game, the Royals would play off of 44 Williston State fouls to surge to 52 points in the second half for a 91-61 win over the Tetons.
Amongst all the changes going on around the team, the Lady Royals have also been working in three new late additions who arrived less than a month ago: freshman guards Marta Lopez, Laura Ribo, and Zoe Ebbitt. While the additions aren't a bad thing to the squad, the additions have led LRSC to draw up some new plans late in order to work the trio into the mix. However, one element that the three have added to the Lady Royal's game is overall speed.
"We're still trying to find ourselves and with those three, they've brought a lot of speed to us that we didn't have the first semester," Lady Royals head coach Danny Mertens said. "We're still trying to find everyone's identity and seeing what people can do and where they need to be, but I thought we made big strides today compared to what we've done the last two weekends."
While Ebbitt didn't play Wednesday night, Lopez was apart of the starting five, finishing with nine points and five pulldowns, and Ribo would see some action as well. Before Wednesday's win, the Lady Royals did get some playing time in exhibition against Jamestown JV with the new trio. Freshman guard Josie Bordina said that the three challenged the rest of the team to keep up and push the ball even faster.
"This was probably our best game," Brodina said. "We've improved a lot from Jamestown JV, and that was our first time playing with each other. It's different because they are so much faster and quicker, and it really challenged us in practice. Our offense in practice goes from here to here in practice, so they really push us and make us better."
Where the Lady Royals found the bulk of their success was from outside the arc, as they would drain eight shots from deep on the night to the Lady Tetons one. Leading that charge was Brodina, who saw a team-leading 4-5 shots from deep fall, finishing with 12 points on the night.
"I really have to give the credit to my teammates for giving me those scoring opportunities," Brodina said. "They gave me good passes, found me, and set me up well. It takes a lot of practice and concentration."
The Lady Royals lead throughout the game, but they never could quite run away with the lead as Williston State found ways to stay within striking distance. In the fourth quarter, with the Lady Royals up nine, the Lady Tetons would capitalize on LRSC fouls and turnovers to go on an 8-4 run and pull within five of tying the game. It was then that Mertens would call a timeout and ask why his team wasn't communicating with each other. After the quick pause, the Lady Royals would go on an 8-5 run, with a complete 3-point play made by Leaf all putting LRSC up by 11, to close out the game.
"We lacked in communication and when we don't talk, we gave up a foul, a 3, and some free throws," Mertens said. "It's things that a little communication can take care of that won't put us in those situations."
While Leaf may be the smallest player on the roster, standing at 5-feet 5-inches, she has capitalized on her speed to make her one of the Lady Royals' strongest weapons on offense. Last season, she would down 320 points, averaging 9.7 a game. On Wednesday night she would put up the most shots from the field and tie for the highest completion mark, downing 4-13 from the field overall. At the line, she shot for 6-7 to add to her overall total.
"She's [Leaf] is a phenomenal scorer for us," Mertens said. "She doesn't realize how good she is and when she gets going, she's tough to stop, and that's what's going to make us good. She can distribute the ball too. I think she found Josie for a couple of hers 3's tonight, so she sees the floor so well and she's so decisive. That's why she scored over 2,000 points in high school."
The Lady Royals are still looking to better their game, but have seen major improvement from playing less than a week ago. In working with new additions and a new style of play, Brodina said the team effort was what really propelled LRSC to victory. The Lady Royals have a day off before traveling to Wahpeton to take on North Dakota State College of Science on Friday.
"We played well as a team and didn't force anything," Brodina said. "We took the good shots, played good defense, talked, hustled, won the offensive rebounds and turnovers. We just competed."
In the men's game, the Royals had come to a crossroads early: play into the Tetons' heavy fouling or take advantage of the situation. In the first half alone, Williston State was already out fouling the Royals 23-14 and had three players who had already committed three. It took a bit for LRSC to find its ground but we're able to build a 12 point advantage going into halftime, highlighted by a halfcourt buzzer-beater by freshman guard Carson Henningsgard.
From there, the Royals began to capitalize on the Tetons' mistakes, seeing them continue to fall into foul trouble and eventually run out of players. With Williston State becoming more and more limited after each whistle, the Royals would charge forward to drain 52 points in the second half and break five players into double figures.
"That's a great way to start the season after not being able to play a lot of games," Royals head coach Jared Marshall said. "We really came out and set the tone defensively. I thought we guarded really well and got a lot of contributions from a lot of different guys. We didn't finish as strong as I wanted, but overall I'm jacked with how we played."
As a result of the Tetons committing 44 personal fouls on the night, the Royals set up camp at the line, shooting 32-54 on the night. Henningsgard would lead that effort, shooting 10-17 from the charity stripe on the night. Shooting 11-26 at halftime, the Royals would up only miss seven shots in the second half from close, shooting 21-28 after halftime. Marshall said at halftime his team knew that if they cleaned up their shooting at that the game would open up.
"That was something that we emphasized at halftime that we just needed to relax out there and make them," Marshall said. "It was the reason we grew the lead to 30. We made stops and free throws."
To add to the Royals' momentum swing heading into the second half, Henningsgard's halfcourt buzzer-beater heading into the locker room would only fuel the Royals fire more. Henningsgard would pick up the bulk of his points at the line and driving the net, but didn't really let it rip from deep. He would finish the night shooting 1-3 from deep, but the lone make came from way outside the line.
"I didn't really have a lot of shots go down, so it was nice to see that one go through, Henningsgard said. "It helped us get some momentum going in the second half."
Relaxing into the game was one of the major points into the Royals' second-half surge. As LRSC began to build and get comfortable with a sizable lead, guys on the court began to catch fire, adding to the overall tally. One Royal who lit up from deep was freshman guard Ben Hoverson. After going 0-2 from 3-point range in the second half, Hoverson drained a team-high 5-7 3-balls for 18 points on the night. When a Royal caught lightning in a bottle on Wednesday night, the others made sure to energize the current for as long as they could.
"Ben was hot, so we found him and that was key for us to extend the lead," Henningsgard said. "We turned the ball over a bit towards the end there, but we just need to sharpen that up."
Among the handful of leading margins, the Royals had on the stat sheet, on they weren't looking to lead in was turnovers. The Royals narrowly held the turnover disadvantage to the Tetons, as the fine stretch of the game would knock LRSC's turnover number to 28 compared to Williston State's 26. However, the Royals continue the effort, to stay cool and have the Tetons commit their own mistakes, which ended up outweighing the high turnover number.
"There wasn't a huge adjustment at halftime, but we just relaxed more and took advantage of them overplaying," Marshall said. "We didn't get into our offense a ton tonight, but we really didn't need to because they were able to get in and get at the hoop a lot."
After building a sound lead in the second half, the Royals were able to empty the bench and get the entire roster in on the action. Two players who saw their first action playing basketball in the United States were freshman center Trace Evans, from New Castle, Australia, and Djordje Mitrovic from Novi Sad, Serbia. Evans had a strong impact in the paint from tip-off as he would rack up 17 points and fall one rebound short of a double-double in the finish. Mitrovic also played a role in the late rebounding game, collecting five on the night.
"If Truck [Evans] hadn't gotten into foul trouble, I might've played him more and he would've gotten that double-double," Marshall said. "Djordje brought us some good minutes off the bench, so those two guys are adjusting well. Truck's going to be a force because there aren't a lot of dudes that are that size in the league and there was no one to stop him tonight."
After a 9-22 finish last season, the Royals' performance against the Tetons on Wednesday night puts them back where they want to be. Last season, LRSC lost to Williston State on the same court by 36. Almost a whole year and a global pandemic later, the tables have been turned in favor of the Royals. LRSC will join the women's squad Friday in heading south to take on North Dakota State College of Science.
"It's not Lake Region basketball how we played last year, but this is how I want to be," Marshall said. "We want to be guarding our butts off and really be spreading the ball out and playing team basketball. You couldn't ask for a better start to the season."