BEMIDJI -- When momentum was up for grabs Tuesday night, the Bemidji High School boys basketball team declared full ownership.
The Lumberjacks took a rivalry bout fast tracked for 12 rounds and turned it into an early knockout, steamrolling Grand Rapids for a 72-55 statement win inside the BHS Gymnasium.
“We play well at home. The boys are 5-0 at home and want to defend our court, keep our fans happy,” Bemidji head coach Travis Peterson said. “We’re playing the top team in Section 7, and to handle them like that definitely says something.”
A playoff atmosphere descended on the gym for the first time this season, and the Jacks delivered. They flipped a three-point loss to the Thunderhawks -- still just five days old -- into a 17-point victory.
“It was a lot of focus and hard work,” senior Colten Jensen said. “We grinded it out and shut down their best player.”
John Sutherland had 38 in Tuesday’s prequel, but BHS (7-4) cut his production in half in the rematch. Matt Arel, Ben Hess, Silas Hess, Isaac Severts and Nick Snell all took shifts defending Grand Rapids’ go-to.
“Everybody that got in the game did their job,” Peterson said. “We just kept putting fresh legs in there (to defend Sutherland). These guys actually relished that job, and they did a heck of a job on him. I’m really proud of that, and their teammates recognized that it was key to the win.”
But the game was ultimately decided on the other end. Sutherland put the Thunderhawks (11-4) ahead 28-22 by stuffing a two-handed, and-one dunk late in the first half, but Jensen dished to Gavin Luksik and Arel for back-to-back layups. Then, making a final stand on defense, Silas Hess dug out a loose ball at midcourt and slung it blindly to Jensen, who was streaking out for a layup that somehow beat the halftime buzzer.
“We were down by 10,” Jensen said of a 26-16 deficit. “Then we started to focus in, go for layups and run in transition because we knew they couldn’t run with us. … We were feeling it as a team (at the half). And any way I can get my teammates involved is better than just me doing anything.”
The 28-28 deadlock turned to 30-30 a minute into the second half. But it didn’t stay tied for long.
Bemidji scored 21 points in a row. The Lumberjacks were flying, namely when Ben Hess produced a fast-break highlight by saving a ball on the sideline and then making the layup on a Silas Hess no-look feed, when Luksik sprung a 3-on-1 with a suffocating block, and when Luksik made another open layup for a 51-30 lead.
“It obviously gave us the momentum, and that was huge momentum,” Peterson said. “They tried to do some different things to put pressure on us, and we just scored layups.”
Silas Hess and Jensen both took charges during the stretch, which was part of the Thunderhawks’ second six-minute scoreless drought of the night.
“We went out with so much momentum,” Jensen said. “We came out of half (knowing) that we had to keep our foot on the pedal. We had to step on their throats and end it.”
BHS led by as many as 22 points from then on, and Grand Rapids was never closer than 16.
“They have a really nice team. They always seem to,” Peterson said. “This is a big win for us. … I’m proud of the fact that we finished. That’s one thing we need to be able to do against good teams.”
Jensen finished with 18 points for Bemidji, while Luksuk added 15 points, 11 boards and six steals alongside 10 points apiece from Ben Hess and Snell.
The Jacks will return to the floor at 7:15 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 16, for a road game at Pequot Lakes. If Tuesday is any indication, they’ll head in with momentum.
“We for sure sent a message to the state that we can play ball,” Jensen said.
Bemidji 72, Grand Rapids 55
GR 28 27 -- 55
BHS 28 44 -- 72
GRAND RAPIDS (11-4) -- Sutherland 19, Fothergill 13, Hanson 11, Ellies 6, Persons 6.
BEMIDJI (7-4) -- Jensen 18, Luksik 15, B. Hess 10, Snell 10, S. Hess 7, Arel 5, Severts 3, Biehn 2, LaValley 2.