Lake Region State men win thiller over Miles, women's upset bid falls short

Jack Williams
Devils Lake Journal
Lake Region men's and women's basketball teams faced Miles Community College on March 22 at Devils Lake High School. The men defeated the Pioneers 76-75 and the women lost 86-70.

Almost three months after they took the court for the first time after a delayed start to the season, Lake Region State men's and women's basketball teams are nearing the end of the regular season schedule, with a lot hanging in the balance. Monday, both squads tipped off in one of their final home games of the season against Miles Community College.

The women's squad caught the Pioneers by surprise throughout the first half as the Royals had the No. 23 ranked team in the country, the top scorer in the county, and an undefeated record on the ropes, only down by three points at halftime. A defensive adjustment by the Pioneers in the second half would provide the security Miles needed, seeing the Royals upset bid get away from them in a 86-70 loss. 

For the men, their matchup against the Pioneers had major implications in postseason seeding, with the Region XIII tournament only a week away. In a wild sequence in the final four minutes, the Royals would come back from four points down, take a lead, almost give it away and survive a last-second attempt from the Pioneers, handing them a key win over Miles, 76-75. 

Lake Region State 76, Miles 75

Lake Region State -- 37, 39 - 76

Miles - 42, 33 - 75 

Lake Region State -- Hoverson 1 1-3 18, Newbern 2 5-9 15, Evans 6 2-7 14, Kriesel 5 0-0 13, Henningsgard 0 5-6 8, Feltman 2 0-0 4, Sommer 1 0-0 2, Mitrovic 1 0-0 2. Totals 18 13-25 76

Miles -- Chukwkelu 4 6-6 26, Habighorst 0 2-3 17, Hushaw 0 0-0 12, Lemovou 3 2-4 8, Ricketts 0 2-3 8, Esimone 1 0-0 2, Darto 1 0-1 2. Totals 12 12-16 75. 

3-pointers: Lake Region State 9 (Hoverson 5, Newbern 2, Henningsgard 1, Kriesel 1). Miles 13 (Havighorst 5, Hushaw 4, Chukwkelu 4). 

Everything added up perfectly for the Royals to come away with a win, but not exactly the way they might've wanted it. 

Late in the second half, LRSC was able to find a narrow edge and continue to hold a steady lead. Miles would begin to send the Royals to the line, which is where things begin to come down the line. The Royals would begin to split their free throws, still holding down a lead, but only by a point. 

In the final seconds, freshman center Trace Evens would pick up a loose ball at center court, igniting the crowd and the bench, only to turn the ball back over a few seconds later. Miles had one more chance, but the Royals didn't feel like the game was out of their favor. In the final two seconds, the Pioneers would get up a shot under the net for a possible victory.

However, the odds had been in the Royals' favor in those final five minutes, seeing the Pioneers hail mary go up and rim out left, giving LRSC a narrow victory over the Pioneers, 76-75. The close finish not only bumps LRSC's record to 12-8 but gives them security to host a game in the upcoming Region XIII tournament. 

"It was a back and forth battle, and I thought when we were down, we never were down," Royals head coach Jared Marshall said. "I told them when we were down with four minutes to go in that timeout that we were going to take the lead and weren't going to give it back, and we didn't. It wasn't pretty down the stretch, but I'm happy we got the win." 

The Royals defense has been a steady hand for them throughout the regular season, cracking a top 25 ranking in the country at a point this season, and came up key for them in the victory. LRSC would force the Pioneers into 18 turnovers on the night and force them to shoot heavy from 3-point range. The Royals would also record 44 defensive stops to Miles' 41. On the pulldown game, freshman forward Brody Kriesel would pick up eight defensive pulldowns for 11 overall on the night, recording a double-double with 13 points along the way. 

When the free throws went 50/50 and turnovers began to pile up down the stretch, the Royals' defensive efficiency was able to step up and lockdown to hold on for the win. The defense saw a surge from the first half, going from allowing 42 points to 33 from half to half. 

"Our defense was really important and it has been all year," Marshall said. "They really hang their hats on their defense and buy into that. We didn't execute well in the first half, but we locked up a little more in the second. We took some of the stuff away that they were trying to do."

On offense, the Royals broke four players into double figures, seeing Evans clean up in the paint and freshman guard Ben Hoverson lockdown from outside the arc. Evans would shoot 66 percent from the 2-point field goal range while Hoverson would drain a team-high five 3-pointers. 

"We had to run them off that 3-point line and we are a good 3-point shooting time, but it's not our strength. We like to pound it inside and attack teams," Marshall said. "We did a pretty good job contesting tonight, but we gave up some boards off of that."

Marshall would describe the game as a rollercoaster, seeing both teams have their fair share of momentum swings. One of the major turning points of the game was redshirt sophomore guard Beijan Newbern's exit and re-entrance into the game. After committing a technical foul, sending him to the bench with four fouls, and sending the Pioneers to the line, there was visible frustration between Newbern and Marshall. 

Going down the stretch, the game would tighten up and see LRSC pull out ahead, seeing Marshall call Newbern off the bench. The guard's free-throw shooting in the final minutes of the game would be a major edge for the Royals into locking down a win.

"Bejian's is a fiery kid and he's passionate, and you don't want to take away who he is from him," Marshall said. "It was a one-point game and those two free-throws could've cost us, and that's what we talked about. He cooled off, make a couple of big drives, and stops. Sometimes he gets a little emotional and that's ok. We just talked about not hurting us or the team when that happens."

The Royals head out of Monday's game with some huge momentum heading into the postseason. LRSC has one series left against Bismarck State on Wednesday at home and Thursday on the road, defeating the Mystics 75-70 in their last meeting. The Royals have defeated every team in Region XIII at least once, with the exception of Dawson College, with two out of three games against the Bucs decided by a possession.

The Royals believe that in competing with just about everyone that they can make some noise and a run at the regional come next week. 

"We proved it all year that we can play with anybody and compete with anybody, and I think we can make a run at it," Marshall said. "I think if we start clicking and rely on our defense, I think we can make a run and win the thing. We may not be the highest seed, but we can play with everybody and beat almost everybody, and were clicking at the right time." 

No. 23 Miles 86, Lake Region State 70

Miles - 19, 18, 33, 16 - 86

Lake Region State - 17, 17, 18, 18 - 70 

Miles -- Long 4 13-17 24, Pacheco 2 2-3 17, Dallinger 3 4-6 13, Conejero 2 0-1 12, Tanner 2 4-6 8, Pintor 1 1-2 6, Denham 0 0-0 6. Totals 16 24-35 86. 

Lake Region State -- Leaf 2 1-3 20, Ribo 2 0-0 16, Byrne 2 1-2 11, Vigen 4 3-4 11, Kathrein 2 1-2 5, Zeigler 2 0-0 4, Brodina 0 0-0 3. Totals 14 6-11 70. 

3-pointers: Miles 10 (Pacheco 3,Conejero 2, Denham 2, Long 1, Pintor 1, Dallinger 1). Lake Region State 12 (Leaf 5, Ribo 4, Byrne 2, Brodina 1). 

More is being gained than lost from the Royals' loss to the Pioneers. On paper, the matchup was supposed to be very different. Miles is leading Region XIII in the standing by a wide margin at 25-0 and ranked No.23 in the country. To add to that, freshman forward Rebekah Dallinger is the top scorer in the NJCAA, averaging 24.4 points per game. 

LRSC came into Thursday's game losing 12 of its last 14 but had recently come off a narrow victory over United Tribes Techincal on Saturday. The stats would predict a blowout, but by halftime, the Royals saw themselves down by only three and holding the top point-getter in the country to six points. 

While the game would eventually get away from LRSC, seeing Miles put on a more aggressive press on the Royals' top shooter in sophomore guard Maddy Leaf and ending in a 86-70 loss, Royals head coach Danny Mertens said that he saw some of the best basketball this season from his squad in the finish. 

"That's the hardest we played all year and when we play hard, good things happen," Mertens said. "We were down three at the half and that was one of the best halves we put together. We haven't practiced a lot because we've been playing a lot and they've been making adjustments on the fly with games. The effort was definitely there. Everyone stepped up when they had to tonight." 

There were a lot of little victories for the Royals along the way. LRSC was able to hold Dallinger to 16 points, eight points below her average, and were able to find a spark plug of their own off the 3-point line. The Royals let the ball fly from deep in the first half, seeing Leaf and freshman guard Laura Ribo combine for seven 3's. The pair would be targeted in the second half but would finish with 20 (Leaf) and 16 (Ribo) points. 

Lake Region men's and women's basketball teams faced Miles Community College on March 22 at Devils Lake High School. The men defeated the Pioneers 76-75 and the women lost 86-70.

"Ribo just went out, played hard, and shot it within rhythm. That's the best game she has played all year," Mertens said. "If we can play that hard and play with that intensity, good things will happen with us." 

Leaf, who left Warwick as one of the top scorers in North Dakota girls basketball history, has continued to sharpen her scoring blade with the Royals. Even when Miles had put a two-man press on Leaf, she still found ways to score. In the fourth quarter, with little room, she would inbound off a Pioneers' back, layup up, and draw a foul. Mertens said that Leaf's experience allowed her to step into a new position at the point, as freshman guard Marta Lopez, who usually runs the point, was not playing. 

"I usually have Maddy on the wing and not on the point, and she did a great job there," Mertens said. "She's played a lot of games and I have all the confidence in the world. She hit a bunch of deep 3's and she just sees the floor so well, and it's what makes everyone else go."

On defense, the Royals knew that they were not going to be able to stop everyone, so pushed their focus on stopping Dallinger. Lili Long would pull ahead in the scoring for Miles, throwing down a team-high 24 points, but LRSC had met its goal of not getting beat by the Pioneers' entire onslaught. 

The Royals did see one major downfall in the loss in having freshman guard Shelley Kathrein leave the game in the second quarter due to an injury. Kathrein would fall to the floor out of a scuffle, hitting her head on the floor on the way down. Mertens said that she had passed her concussion test, but had rolled her ankle when going down. 

Overall, LRSC is walking away from Friday's game not hanging their heads, but possibly holding them higher. The energy and intensity brought to the floor by the Royals put one of the best teams in the country on upset alert for half the game. Getting this boost, LRSC closes out its regular-season schedule against Bismarck State at home and on the road before the postseason.

"The hear, desire, and engagement from the entire team will allow good things to happen," Mertens said. "We need to bring that energy to every game and if we do, good things will happen." 

Jack Williams covers Lake Region sports and general news for the Devils Lake Journal. Contact him via email at JGWilliams1@gannett.com, or on Twitter @jackgwilliams, or phone at 701-662-2127.