Perseverance. That was the name of the game in Friday’s home court Big Rivers Conference (BRC) matchup between the Menomonie boys’ basketball team and the Hudson raiders.
The Mustangs jumped out to a 10-0 lead, but the Raiders kept them on their toes, coming back to tie it in the second half. But the Mustangs made all the plays required to hold the lead and come away with a 70-60 triumph.
“It was a game of runs, and they (Hudson) came back in the second half and tied it and we just never gave up — we fought,” head coach Matt Riley said of Friday’s win. “We have a lot of grit and toughness, and I’m extremely proud of how we finished the game.”
Menomonie’s Jace Kressin, Sam Sleichert and Brenden Johnston combined for the first 10 points of the game, with Kressin and Johnston netting for three doubles and Sleichert draining a triple from the top of the key.
Hudson finally got on the board just under three minutes in with a pair of freebies, followed up with two field goals and another foul to make it 14-7 with 12:18 on the clock.
Sleichert then connected on his own offensive rebound, sparking another three field goals and a charity point for the Mustangs, extending their lead to 23-12 with 7:35 to go.
Davis Barthen hit a basket from the outside for his first three points of the game and Johnston successfully completed two layups off a pair of long-ball passes from Sleichert.
But the Raiders were starting to get into a scoring rhythm, as Keyser Helterbrand powered through the lane for a series of baskets in a 10-4 run, cutting Menomonie’s lead down to 34-30 with 1:30 left until the break.
Johnston connected for another field goal, but the Raiders finished up first half scoring with two free throw points and a long-ball pass for two right at the buzzer. Menomonie still held the lead, however, at 38-33 at halftime.
Johnston opened up second half action with a fade-away jump shot in the paint, followed up with another field goal from Dylan Boecker. Though the Raiders kept in step with a double accompanied by a freebie point and a triple, Menomonie’s Jake Ebert drove in for two and drained a 3-pointer to keep the Mustang’s ahead at 47-39 with 14:45 left to play.
The Raiders started to chip away at the Mustang’s lead, muscling through the lane for five baskets to the Mustang’s three.
Another pair of field goals and a trip to the line for the Raiders closed down Menomonie’s lead to 54-53. During a Mustang possession, the Raiders swiped the ball away and nearly returned it to take the lead, but they were stopped and sent to the line where they tied it up at 54-54.
But Menomonie’s dry spell broke with Sleichert sparking a 12-6 run to regain an eight-point lead with just over one minute left in regulation. Now in foul trouble, the Raiders send the Mustangs to the free throw line where they connected on their final three points of the game.
Johnston came away with 24 points on the night to lead the Mustangs in scoring. He connected for nine field goals, one 3-pointer and shot 3-for-3 from the free throw line. Ebert followed with 16 points, including six field goals, one 3-pointer and one from the line.
Sleichert added 13 points, throwing in for four doubles, one triple and connected on both of his charity shots. Sleichert led in rebounds with eight, including two offensive grabs.
Kressin finished the night with eight points, Boecker and Barthen contributed four points apiece and Sam Zbornik chipped in two.
“I’ve been telling the guys that we’re extremely close. I think when we beat River Falls in the second half, we were down 16 points, you know and it gave us a lot of confidence,” Riley said. “We know that we can play with teams in our conference, play with teams in our section and it’s just all about having that confidence and playing as a team.”
The Mustangs play Sparta (4-16) on Thursday at home. A win would give Menomonie a higher seed in the playoffs.
“That’s a huge game for us,” Riley noted. “All games now are important but that one is extremely important because if we can come out and play well and get a win then we’d be a higher seed than them.”