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BOYS BASKETBALL: Team-wide effort leads Bemidji over Brainerd 64-53

Individual heroics or Herculean performances are long remembered. But basketball, at its core, is a team game. And that’s how the Bemidji High School boys basketball team did it on Tuesday.

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Bemidji students cheer in the second half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI -- The so-called “stuff of legends” may be the most flashy.

Individual heroics or Herculean performances are long remembered. But basketball, at its core, is a team game. And that’s how the Bemidji High School boys basketball team did it on Tuesday.

“It’s really special when you can put a team win together like this,” head coach Steve Thompson said. “It’s really fun to watch a bunch of guys come together and buy in to doing their job. And they did that tonight.”

The Lumberjacks dominated Brainerd in the second half by executing with poise and precision down the stretch. It translated to a convincing 64-53 win at the BHS Gymnasium.

It was also Bemidji’s first game action after an extended pause due to Bemidji Area Schools shutting down activities for a week. That would have made it easy for the Jacks to come out flat, but they preached against that directly.

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Bemidji senior Sam Wilson (11) controls the ball in the first half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“We haven’t practiced for 10 or 11 days. We only had one day (of practice on Monday) to get our legs under us,” senior point guard Sam Wilson said. “It definitely would have been easy to come out flat, but that’s one thing we stressed before the game.”

Still, the Warriors (8-5) were the better team in the first half. There was nothing fancy about it, but Brainerd steadily built up a 33-24 advantage by the intermission.

“We had to grind. … (Brainerd) was doing a nice job on both ends,” Thompson said. “But that second that we put together, the way the boys executed the plan defensively and on offense was outstanding.”

The narrative changed in the second half when Bemidji (5-4) decided to be the aggressor. First came the Khai Branham baskets to get the offense flowing early, and then came back-to-back 3-pointers by Wilson and Ethan Biehn.

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Bemidji senior Khai Branham (43) shoots the ball to score in the second half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Isaac Severts capped an 11-2 run to tie the game at 40-40, and soon after, Severts’ transition layup gave the Jacks a 45-43 edge -- their first lead since the opening two minutes of the game.

“The biggest thing we talked about was trust,” Wilson said. “Trusting in our guys that we could come back and not getting into a selfish sort of play. We kept sharing the ball with each other and slowly built our way back in by trusting each other.”

Daniel Clusiau took two charges in the final nine minutes, both coming in big moments. Gavin Luksik fought through fatigue and crashed the boards time and time again, and Bemidji passed with purpose on offense as the clock wound down and the defense chased them around.

“They had tremendous focus about them tonight in that second half,” Thompson said. “They executed every little thing that they needed to in order to come out (on top). Just an outstanding effort tonight by the boys.”

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Bemidji senior Gavin Luksik (33) shoots a free throw in the first half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

The Jacks clung to a 54-53 lead with 5:15 to go after a Mitchell Degen bucket cut Brainerd’s deficit to one. The Warriors never scored again.

Bemidji iced the game with a closing 10-0 run, which included an 8-for-10 performance from the free-throw line. The Lumberjacks doubled up Brainerd 40-20 in the second half.

“Everyone stepped into their role perfectly,” Wilson said. “We stressed before the game that everyone needs to come in and play their role, and everyone did that great.”

Bemidji ended with four scorers in double figures. Wilson led the way with 16 points, Severts and Branham added 13 apiece, and Biehn tallied 10. Luksik also chipped in nine, all coming in the first half when the Jacks needed offensive solutions.

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Bemidji junior Isaac Severts (15) goes to the hoop in the second half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

“I’m really proud of the resiliency that these boys showed,” Thompson said. “They took the moment tonight, and they played hard for one another.”

Bemidji returns to action at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Jan. 28, at Thief River Falls.

Bemidji 64, Brainerd 53

BRD 33 20 -- 53

BEM 24 40 -- 64

BRAINERD (8-5) -- Engholm 17, Degan 15, Pecarich 14, Evanson 4, Jacobs 3.

BEMIDJI (5-4) -- Wilson 16, Branham 13, Severts 13, Biehn 10, Luksik 9, Clusiau 3.

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Bemidji senior Kenley Vincent (31) passes the ball in the second half against Brainerd on Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2022, at the BHS Gymnasium.
Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer

Micah Friez is the former sports editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. A native of East Grand Forks, Minn., he worked at the Pioneer from 2015-23 and is a 2018 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Creative and Professional Writing.
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