The Pine River-Backus boys’ basketball team opened the season against Cass Lake-Bena with an 81-70 loss on Thursday, Nov. 29, in Cass Lake.
Despite the loss, the Tigers had an important milestone and a admirable individual performance by guard Beau Howard. The senior came into the game needing 23 points to reach the 1,000-career point plateau, a feat only accomplished by six other players in PR-B history. Howard was able to put up 32 points, including going an impressive 10-for-10 from the free-throw line.
The Tigers knew that this season would be a transition year as they lost several impact players from last year, including the Tigers’ all-time leading scorer Nathan Holm, who graduated in 2012. Howard and freshman center, Zach Struss are the only players on the team with extensive varsity experience. Several players, such as Saul Sasse, Travon Pederson, and Cody Mager each had minimal varsity minutes in previous seasons.
On the first possession of the game, the Tigers stripped the ball from Cass Lake-Bena and Saul Sasse passed the ball to Howard for the first points of the game on a fast break. Cass Lake-Bena was able to take advantage of the Tigers’ inexperience as they applied constant pressure on defense, which led to multiple turnovers and quick transition points. Cass Lake-Bena began applying full court pressure on the Tigers every time they inbounded the ball, but the Tigers were able to spread out and get the ball up court for a couple of midrange baskets by Struss, which forced the Panthers to ease up on the half court pressure.
PR-B struggled to keep the Panthers off the boards, which led to several offensive rebounds by Cass Lake. At the half, the Tigers went into the locker room trailing 43-36. One bright spot for the Tigers was the experience that will be gained this season by the young players.
The team will also see an influx of youth, with an impressive five freshman on the Varsity roster to start the season. Another player that the Tigers expect to see large contributions from is sophomore Henry Krecklau, who is sitting out to start the season due to an injury. Coach Shaun Howard believes that when Krecklau returns, he will be ready to make a large contribution immediately. “Henry has been involved in every practice, cheering on the guys, and has been conditioning on his own.”
The second half started slow, with both team contesting every shot. Pine River used the pressure applied on defense by the Panthers to their advantage, with several quick passes leading to scoring chances. However, they found themselves unable to convert those opportunities into points. Cass Lake-Bena built a large lead to start the second half, which turned out to be too much for the Tigers. When PR-B would score, the Panthers were able to answer back, often with an easy transition basket, usually keeping the lead to about ten points. When the final buzzer sounded, Cass Lake was up 11 points.
Despite the opening loss, Coach Howard felt it was an important learning experience for his young team.
Coach Howard recognized that there would be typical growing pains this season with so many players learning the increased intensity at the varsity level and that mistakes during the season opener were to be expected. Howard walked into the locker room after the game very proud of the effort the Tigers displayed in their first game. “There are a number of things that we did tonight that contributed to the loss that we will improve on as the season progresses,” he said after the loss.
Several aspects of the game, such as offensive turnovers and transition defense, are areas that Howard believes the team will learn from with game experience by his young team. All too often the Tigers allowed easy baskets after turnovers.
Howard summed up his optimism for this season by saying “We will run into our share of bumps in the road as we did tonight, but the future is bright for our basketball team”
Beau Howard was 10 for 25 shooting from the field. Struss added 16 points and eight rebounds to his team’s total, going 8-for-12. Travon Pederson made a team high 3-three point baskets and a total of 13 points. Hank Raph added four points, Mager three, and Konrad Bueckers had two.