HOLCOMBE — The New Auburn boys basketball gave Lake Holcombe a stiff test before falling in their first meeting of the season last month.
In the second matchup of the rivals on Tuesday evening, the Trojans closed the deal and gave the East Lakeland Conference champion Chieftains their first defeat of the league season with a 51-48 win.
New Auburn (7-12, 5-6) led by two at halftime and was in front by as many as six with 1:12 to go, but had to hold on as Lake Holcombe got the chance to tie the game at the buzzer as a 3-point from Trent Novak didn’t fall.
“I feel we had a pretty good gameplan against their (1-3-1 zone) defense, it’s just a matter of being strong enough with the ball to execute it,” New Auburn coach Keenan Dahl said. “We were able to get the ball inside and to Dylan (North) in the high post and attack it there and had some success.”
Ethan Harder led New Auburn with 16 points while Logan Huset added 14 as the two Trojan post players found success around the basket.
Lake Holcombe (16-4, 10-1) cut into the lead in the final minute, getting the deficit to two at 50-48 after Brady Webster rebounded his own 3-point attempt for a putback basket with 14 seconds to go. Michael Pederson made 1 of 2 free throws for the last of his 13 points to push New Auburn in front 51-48 but the Chieftains had the chance to tie it as their final play ended up in the hands of Novak — who entered Tuesday second in Chippewa County in 3-pointers made — but his attempt from well beyond the arc came up short.
“It wasn’t a thing of beauty, just getting the ball inbounds knowing they were going to come foul us. We just had to be strong with it and take the foul,” Dahl said of closing out the win.
New Auburn made 17 of 26 free throws in the game, including five of the last six.
Kaden Kinney led all scorers with 19 points while Webster added 13.
“We just couldn’t find a bucket anywhere,” Lake Holcombe coach Joy Webster said. “I was subbing, I was doing everything we could and we just couldn’t find somebody. With this team all year when somebody’s off, somebody else steps up. Many nights we have four or five kids in double digits. We had two tonight. It was just one of those nights.”
Lake Holcombe led by as many as four in the first half after a basket from Josh Jones put his team in front 16-12 at the 9:25 mark. But New Auburn responded with the next eight points to take the lead before Lake Holcombe battled back to tie the game twice prior to a basket from Huset with 20 seconds left giving the team a two-point lead heading into the break.
Size down low
The 6-foot-6 Huset and 5-foot-11 Harder were difference makers around the basket, with plenty of baskets on offense while pulling down rebounds and redirecting shots on the defensive end. Harder had 10 of his points after halftime with Huset scoring a team-high nine in the first half, including a two-handed dunk early in the contest.
“I feel like if we’re just strong enough with the ball to get it to that point, it makes us pretty decent,” Dahl said of his team’s post play. “Turning the ball over has been our Achillies heel.”
New Auburn led Lake Holcombe by two points at halftime in their first meeting on Jan. 16 before the Chieftains powered past New Auburn for a 54-41 win. Tuesday’s win starts a stretch of four games in nine days, continuing on Thursday at Granton before games at home against Clayton (Monday) and at Cornell (Feb. 22).
Plenty to play for
Tuesday’s loss was as uncharacteristic one for the Chieftains as the team missed several layups and overall had trouble putting the ball in the basket. The team’s 49 points were the fewest for the team since falling at Mondovi 59-38 on Dec. 29.
Novak — the team’s leading scorer entering Tuesday at 16.5 points per game — was held to three points while battling an illness as well as a jammed finger from Monday’s 72-56 loss to Unity.
Lake Holcombe clinched the outright East Lakeland Conference title last Friday with a 70-60 win at Birchwood, combined with Flambeau’s 47-44 win over Bruce. It was the program’s fifth league title in school history and the first since 2007-08. The team is also two wins away from matching the 2001-02 squad for the most wins in a single season (18) since 1986-87.
“This isn’t our most talented team we’ve had, but this team has pulled together and is playing team ball,” coach Webster said. “Talent to talent, we’ve had more talented teams. But with these guys, somebody always steps up and play as a team and the team has got them to where the are today.”
The Chieftains close the conference season on Friday at Bruce heading into Division 5 playoff seeding meetings this weekend. Lake Holcombe closes the regular season at Eau Claire Immanuel Lutheran on Feb. 22 before opening the postseason on Feb. 27.
“Nothing is lost out of this game, we’ve just got to bounce back and go get Bruce on Friday,” coach Webster said.