No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan shuts down No. 4 L/E/M 'big 3' in battle of Class B heavyweights
While temperatures dipped as low as -28 degrees on Tuesday night in Langdon, two of the hottest teams in the state took the floor inside the tropical high 60's feel at Langdon Area High School. The Indians had won seven straight and continue to make noise around the state as a favorite to win the Class B title. On the other end of the court, the Cardinals continued to claw up the state rankings, powered by its senior core of guard Simon Romfo, Grant Romfo, and Jagger Worley.
L/E/M's trio has been charging the Cardinals up the standings and to a 9-0 record heading into the early week matchup. No. 8 Rugby and No. 6 Dunseith struggled to stop the muscle of Grant and Simon, with the shooting support of Worley from outside the arc. They may only be three players, but the trifecta hasn't run into any traffic, until Tuesday night.
The defensive attack, powered by the Indians speed and lockdown inside the arc complemented by the team's strengths on offense, limited the Cardinals trio and powered No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan (10-1, 3-0) to a 64-39 win over No. 2 Langdon/Edmore/Munich (9-1, 2-0). The Indians were aware of the pressure they were going to face coming into the game and according to Indians head coach Rick Smith, executed a season-best attack on the press.
"The defensive effort we had tonight was just outstanding," Smith said. "This is the first game we played man to man the whole game, and we weren't sure how well pressure on Simon was going to work because of his speed and point guard skills. We didn't want to get broken down because of that, and we thought we had a good matchup putting JaeSawn on him. We put Keldon on Grant to put a little muscle on him and when he got a few shots off earlier on, we kind of closed that off a little bit and made him put the ball on the floor. And I thought Caelen Lohnes did a hell of a job on the floor."
The Cardinals and the Indians are two teams that have both capitalized on their speed on the floor. The Romfo's transition from the gridiron to the hardwood hasn't seen the pair break stride. Worley's offensive abilities from deep and height in the paint have elevated L/E/M's success in this run. However, the Indians matched up to the Cardinals and were on the trio like glue.
After Grant began to shoot high in the first quarter, downing eight points off of two 3's and a 2-point field goal, Four Winds tightened up on him, limiting him to 10 points for the rest of the game. He would be the only Cardinal to break into double figures with 18 points on the night. As for the other pair, Simon would finish with six points off of a 2-point field goal, a 3-pointer, and one made free throw. Worley finished with four points off of two 2-point field goals.
"We were keyed into the big three, especially the Romfo's because they come off their picks," Smith said. "Simon loves to get into the paint and create havoc into the paint and Grant is so physical and is such a tough matchup. We thought they might set some high picks and bring Bronson out a little bit, but I thought Bronson, Caelen, and Jonah played that high pick really well and forced the ball out of those guys' hand."
On offense, the Indians worked off of senior center Bronson Walter in getting their offensive system going. When a double or triple team was put on the center, the shooters on the outside would light up and vice versa. Senior guard JaeShaun Shaw headed the Indians offensive game from outside the arc, shooting down four 3-pointers for 14 points on the night. Mirroring Shaw's 14 points, Walter would drain six shots from close for 14 points of his own.
Also breaking into double figures for Four Winds was junior guard Jayden Yankton with 11 points and senior guard Jonah Jackson with 10 points off the bench. The Indians were firing on all cylinders, dropping 44 points by halftime. The non-stop push by Four Winds throughout the game was apart of a mental mindset that was put into place prior to Tuesday's game: intensity.
"We had a great, intense practice yesterday and that was the keyword for us tonight," Smith said. "We had to come out intense. Their gym, their floor, and us with the target. We beat them twice last year, so they want to come after us. We were thankful we came out to a big lead and held on."
On the other end of the court, this is a game that the Cardinals want to wipe from their memory. In a situation where the Cardinals fell down early and were in a position they couldn't get out of, Cardinals head coach Andy Haaven said that they were just focused on playing their game and finishing.
"You just have to play your game and not worry about the score. What else are you going to do?" Haaven said. "It's just too big of a hill to climb when you're down 25 against a good team. You just need to forget about it and just play."
In avoiding any sort of hangover or lapse from the finish, the Cardinals are just focused on moving forward, not giving much thought to what happened. L/E/M still has some challenges ahead of them and is still a heavy favorite to win their district, and challenge for the regional crown. L/E/M meets with New Rockford-Sheyenne on Saturday, another team that is trying to chop at that finals spot in regionals. The Cardinals will still have opportunities to stay sharp in the top 10 rankings as they play No. 5 Grafton twice before the regular season ends.
Tuesday's was a game for the Cardinals was a matchup that allowed the squad to get better, without hurting their seeding in districts. While the loss wasn't one to remember, the court did begin to open up for L/E/M as the game continued to move forward. Haaven said that they were getting the looks on offense and saw a defensive rise in the second half. They also kept rebounding numbers close against their opposition throughout the game.
There is still very much a possibility that L/E/M may meet Four Winds down the road in the regional tournament. Last season, the Cardinals faced the Indians in regional semifinals, resulting in a loss to set them up for a third-place finish. The Cardinals are keeping their chins up and moving on, but now getting a look at the Indians and having the possibility of meeting them again, they are putting that information in their back pocket.
"You take what you learn and try to apply it later," Haaven said. "In the first half, we were defending Bronson underneath and it clearly didn't work. We adjusted at halftime and I thought it was fine, but we'll start off the game a little differently next time and keep him from getting his touches. He passes so well and distributes, so we'll have to limit that."
For the Indians, cruising past the No. 4 team in the state may look like they have hit a peak, but Four Winds believes they aren't even close to that. Even up 30 at some points, visible frustration could be seen on Smith and the players' faces when a turnover was committed or a free throw was missed. The intensity was on from start to finish for the Indians, and that has allowed them to see where they need to pick up their game to get them to their end goal.
"I still think the best is yet to come from this team," Smith said. "If we can continue to play defense like we did tonight, all the other stuff with fall into play. We just need to continue to go back to practice tomorrow and improve. There's always room for improvement no matter who you beat or how much you win by. That's what we need to keep doing."
No. 2 Four Winds/Minnewaukan 64, No. 4 L/E/M 39
Four Winds/Minnewaukan - 22, 22, 13, 7 - 64
Langdon/Edmore/Munich - 8, 9, 11, 11 - 39
Four Winds/Minnewaukan (10-1, 3-0) -- Shaw 1 0-0 14, Walter 6 2-2 14, Yanlton 3 2-2 11, Jackson 3 4-5 10, Keja 3 0-0 9, Lohnes 1 0-0 5, Person 0 1-2 1. Totals 17 9-11 64.
Langdon/Edmore/Munich (9-1, 2-0) -- G. Romfo 3 0-0 18, S. Romfo 1 1-3 6, Kingzett 2 1-1 5, J. Worley 2 0-0 4, R. Worley 1 0-0 2, Goodman 0 2-2 2, Kitchin 2-2 2. Totals 9 8-6 39.
3-pointers: Four Winds/Minnewaukan 7 (Sahw 4, Keja 1, Yankton 1, Lohnes 1). Langdon/Edmore/Munich 5 (G. Romfo 4, S.Romfo 1).