CASS LAKE -- Thursday’s 72-50 win was just the start of the Section 8A title defense for the Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball team.
The Panthers earned the top seed in the 8A East Subsection this season after a 25-1 regular season, and they proved worthy of it with a first-round rout over eighth-seeded Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke in Cass Lake.
CL-B head coach John Wind said his team is capable of back-to-back section championships.
“Just like us, other teams lost some players (from last year),” Wind said. “We lost some players, but overall, our numbers came back. And they’ve been playing good all year. I’m real confident that we can get a run together and hopefully do better at state.”
Cass Lake-Bena won the section championship last season, their first title since 2010. Ever since, the Panthers have been focused on returning to the state tournament.
“We just want to get back to state and hopefully make a further run than last year,” said junior Jarell Jacobs, who had a game-high 21 points on Thursday. “I think that we need to pick it up on defense more and let the offense come as we play defense. (We’ll) build on from there.”
The Panthers worked out to a 26-13 advantage in the first half on an and-one layup for Jacobs, and they carried a 33-25 lead into the break. The Chargers (5-23) never quite threatened the CL-B lead, but Wind still wanted to see better defense out of his team for the majority of the night.
“In the first half, we weren’t playing any defense,” he said. “… We straightened that out at halftime. We came out in the second half, and I thought our defense picked up.”
Cass Lake-Bena opened the final frame with an 11-0 run. Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke finally took the lid off the rim with a Jaden Kieson finger roll five minutes in, but the Chargers only scraped across 10 points in the first 11 minutes of the second half and watched CL-B burst in front 64-35.
The finish was a formality, and the Panthers officially advanced to the section quarterfinals once the clock hit zeroes on the 72-50 victory.
Jacobs’ 21 points were more of the same for the junior guard. He and senior guard Ethan Brown have both reached the 1,000-point plateau this season, joining senior forward Trina Headbird and freshman guard Taryn Frazer from the girls team as Panthers to reach the milestone this season. Brown finished with 16 points Thursday.
Cass Lake-Bena averages 75.3 points per game this season, good for ninth in the state. It pairs with a defense that only allows 52.4 points per game, making for a combination that can pose problems for opponents when CL-B is clicking on both ends.
“It could be deadly,” Jacobs said. “We need some more adjustments, and hopefully we’ll get it going. … We just need to rely on our teammates and have trust in each other.”
With the win, the Panthers move on to play fourth-seeded Fosston at noon on Saturday, March 9, at the Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls.
Wind will be looking for an improved defensive showing, which could lift Cass Lake-Bena one step closer to a section repeat.
“The first 10 minutes of (Thursday’s) second half, if we do that, we’re going to be tough to beat,” Wind said. “But we have to put it together for 36 minutes, not 10 minutes.”
No. 1 Cass Lake-Bena 72, No. 8 Goodridge/Grygla-Gatzke 50
GGG 25 25 -- 50
CL-B 33 39 -- 72
GOODRIDGE/GRYGLA-GATZKE (5-23) -- Tharaldson 14, McMillin 11, Sjulestad 7, Kiesow 6, Wold 5, Manderud 3, Jones 2, Verbout 2.
CASS LAKE-BENA (26-1) -- Jacobs 21, E. Brown 16, A. Brown 10, J. Brown 9, Fairbanks 4, Reyes 4, Sargent 4, Smith 4.