CASS LAKE -- There are currently seven boys basketball banners hanging in the Cass Lake-Bena High School Gymnasium signifying the number of state tournament appearances the program has made. But this year’s Panthers team is set on adding an eighth.
“These guys here, they want to win state,” CL-B head coach John Wind said. “I think it would mean a lot. You see the banners (in the gym), there are seven banners out there… Just getting (to state), that’s just part of it.”
Cass Lake-Bena has surged to a 20-1 record on the season, and they’ve claimed the top spot in the 8A East subsection standings from four-time defending section champion Red Lake. And the Panthers have climbed to No. 5 in all of Class A through the defensive end.
“I think we’re more focused on defense. We really stress that, not only in games, but at practice,” Wind said. “Our defense leads to steals and stops, and it leads to our offense. If we can keep that, we’re fine.”
CL-B’s 53.2 points allowed per game ranks fifth of 20 teams in the section. But add in their 85.5 points per game, and the 32.2 point differential is tops in 8A -- and second only to 18-0 Northwoods across all of Class A.
“It’s kind of hard for teams to focus on one, two or three guys when we’ve got five guys out there who can pretty much do the same things,” Wind said. “We’re selecting our shots. We’re not just going down and taking a bad shot or taking as many shots as we can. We want the highest percentage shot, and I think these kids have bought into that.”
Leading the way for the Panthers offensively is a tetrad of double-digit scorers. Senior Arnold Kingbird fills the statsheet with 17 points, five rebounds and four assists per game. Senior Noah DeLapaz and sophomore Jarell Jacobs follow suit with 14 and 13 points per game, respectively, while DeLapaz also averages three assists and Jacobs five boards a night. Rounding out the core is junior Ethan Brown’s 10 points, five rebounds and five assists per game.
“We try to play kind of an uptempo game,” Wind said. “We are comfortable if teams slow the ball down, and we are confident that, if we get stops, we’ll still go down and run our offense -- either against a zone or a man -- and we can score. I think the kids have bought into that.”
Cass Lake-Bena’s only blemish this season, meanwhile, came in a 54-52 loss to Class A No. 1 Mayer Lutheran on Jan. 13. But Wind is confident that it can help as the Panthers gear up for the postseason.
“We let that slip away. And the boys know it. We missed free throws, we missed bunnies,” he said. “We just didn’t play good as a whole team. I think we learned from that, and we got a lot out of it. The team down there that we played was good, and they are good (still). That’s the competition we’re going to see as we get further into the playoffs, and we expect that.”
CL-B has five games to play before the postseason, the homestretch starting with a 7:30 p.m. matchup with Northome/Kelliher on Friday, Feb. 9, in Cass Lake. The Panthers will host Nevis on Feb. 22 in their regular season finale, while the Section 8A Tournament gets underway on March 8.
And if all goes according to plan, the Class A State Tournament will follow March 21-24.
“These guys are prepared,” Wind said. “Once you get there, it’s how you’re going to execute -- offense, defense. I think these boys right now, they understand that…. (A state championship) is still the No. 1 goal.”