THIEF RIVER FALLS -- Jarell Jacobs wanted to make sure he had the last laugh.
So, 20 seconds after Blackduck’s Dylan Moen drew a charge on Jacobs, the Cass Lake-Bena boys basketball senior stepped up and took one of his own.
“He got me good down there,” Jacobs said. “I was like, ‘I’ve got to get him back.’ I turned, saw him coming baseline and… took a charge. It felt good.”
Jacobs and the Panthers also had the final say Monday night at Ralph Engelstad Arena in Thief River Falls, riding a defensive-led finish for an 82-64 win in the Section 8A semifinals.
“Our coach always puts pressure on us to make sure we play defense every night,” Jacobs said. “That’s what wins championships.”
CLB is no stranger to lifting the 8A East subsection trophy, the golden ticket to the program’s third straight section title game. They’ll meet No. 2-ranked Ada-Borup at 7 p.m. Friday at the Ralph.
“There are a lot of people who don’t believe we have a chance against Ada,” Cass Lake-Bena head coach John Wind said. “It’s out there. But we’re going to come in and we’re not going to slow the ball down. We’re going to go at them, give them our best shot, and they’ll give us theirs.”
To reserve their spot, the Panthers relied on their go-to.
The premier matchup on Monday night quickly became Jacobs against Moen. Both offenses went through their respective seniors, and the two piled up points on each other.
“We decided to put Dylan on him to guard Jacobs,” Blackduck head coach Pete Ofstedal said. “(Moen) went out, worked hard. He’s obviously upset. He wanted to win. He’s an extremely competitive kid. But he plays hard.”
Top-seeded CLB (22-7) went for the early dagger, jumping ahead 17-10 with a 7-0 run, but the third-seeded Drakes (19-9) came right back with an 8-0 burst of their own.
The game felt fast tracked for a hold-your-breath kind of outing the rest of the way, but Cass Lake-Bena caught its second wind instead. The Panthers went on a 15-2 run that spanned exactly three minutes, with Jacobs scoring and facilitating his way to a 36-24 CLB lead.
Ethan Merrill helped keep the halftime score manageable with six points for Blackduck before the break, and a 40-32 halftime difference whittled down to 49-43 as Moen and Jacobs continued to trade baskets in the second half.
And then Jacobs knew it was time to take over.
Jacobs scored back-to-back inside buckets to restore a double-digit lead, and it was all but over from then on out. The Panthers didn’t allow the Drakes to hit a field goal for a 9 minute, 23 second-span, which turned a six-point affair into a 26-point blowout.
“We work hard on our defense,” Wind said. “The more pressure we have on defense, it (leads) into our offense.”
The lockdown allowed for a 28-8 CLB run, and Cass Lake-Bena held on handily for an 18-point difference at the buzzer.
“The experience was important for the community. We haven’t been here for a while,” Ofstedal said. “We have a nice group of younger players who have some good skill, and I think it’s good for them to experience this. Win or lose. We worked hard and just came up short today.”
Jacobs and Moen each finished with 32 points, but the added facilitating from Jacobs became the difference. Kayden Lee put up another 13 points and Leroy Fairbanks 12 for the Panthers. Merrill chipped in 12 for the Drakes.
For Jacobs, who averages around 30 points a game, Monday’s effort was nothing new. And now poised for a third straight appearance, neither is a section title game.
“My coach just tells me to keep going,” Jacobs said. “I’ve been here before. I’m taking shots that I work on day and night.”
No. 1 Cass Lake-Bena 82, No. 3 Blackduck 64
BDK 32 32 -- 64
CLB 40 42 -- 82
BLACKDUCK (19-9) -- Moen 32, Merrill 12, McKeeman 8, O’Brien 8, Stroeing 4.
CASS LAKE-BENA (22-7) -- Jacobs 32, K. Lee 13, L. Fairbanks 12, Sargent 6, Reyes 4, D. Fairbanks 3, Ti. Smith 3, Brown 2, Fowler 2, Lanham 2, T. Lee 2, Tr. Smith 1.