Northland Pines guard Ben Tilley contributed 11 points against the Hodags. —Contributed Photo
Northland Pines guard Ben Tilley contributed 11 points against the Hodags. —Contributed Photo
For the first time since the formation of the Great Northern Conference (GNC) a decade ago, the Northland Pines boys basketball team beat Rhinelander 68-54 last Friday at the Pines field house.

“What a great game. What a huge win for our program,” said Pines coach Troy Pieper. “I was told this is the first time Northland Pines beat Rhinelander in program history. Tonight was a special night and it was another night with great atmosphere. The fans were great again tonight.”

Pieper said the Eagles played a complete game, and it showed on both ends of the court.

“Since the Mosinee game, I’ve been stressing to the guys we need to put a full game of high energy and execution on the defensive side of the ball and if we do that, let’s just see what the outcome is,” said Pieper. “Tonight we were awesome on defense for the entire game. Now the guys know how good we can be when we play two great halves of defense.”

The Eagles defense was stellar in the first half, allowing the Hodags just 22 points. Meanwhile, the Eagles offense was efficient, building a 36-22 halftime lead.

“Our defense really had Rhinelander out of sync for much of the game. Our slight adjustments in our press really caused them issues for the majority of the night,” said Pieper. “It was really nice to see the guys play so well on defense.”

Offensively, Pines was led by Ryan Peterson with 24, Joe Misina with 15, Ben Tilley with 11 and Jack Hayes with seven.

“We had a lot of guys play really well on offense for us,” said Pieper. “It was a really balanced attack on offense.

“Ryan (Peterson) had a really nice night finishing with a game-high 24 points, scoring 12 in each half,” said Pieper. “They were trying to double him and run extra guys at him but he was patient and really had a great game.

“Joe Misina had his best game in his career in my opinion, on both ends of the floor,” said Pieper. “He was a force, finishing with 15 on the night and he had a handful of steals as well. He was really impressive.”

“A lot like Joe, Ben Tilley played really well on both ends also,” said Pieper. “He was really aggressive in the first half attacking the basket and had a big eight first-half points for us and finished with 11 on the night.

“Jack Hayes was a man among boys on the boards. His energy level was off the charts. They couldn’t keep him off the boards,” said Pieper. “His scoring line was a solid seven, but it doesn’t show how huge he was for us. He was all over the place and was a big factor in the game.”

The Eagles have been playing well since the end of December.

“Right now we are peaking at the right time. We’ve won five out of our last seven and we’ve won three out of our last four in conference. What I think is most impressive is we haven’t lost two games in a row since early December,” said Pieper. “Our confidence is high. Now we need to be able to handle the success and stay focused and work even harder to maintain the run we are on right now.”

Pines is 3-5 in the GNC and 8-8 overall. Rhinelander dropped to 4-4 in conference play and 7-8 overall. Mosinee still leads the GNC at 8-0, followed by Lakeland at 5-3 and Antigo at 4-3. Medford is 3-4 and Tomahawk is 0-8.

“It’s been a special year for our program so far, but we are far from done. We’ve had a lot of ‘firsts,’ which is awesome, but we plan on adding to the list of ‘firsts’ before it’s all said and done,” said Pieper.

The Eagles were scheduled to play Lakeland last Tuesday, but that game was postponed due to poor weather. The game has been rescheduled for this Saturday, Feb. 9, at 7:30 p.m.

Pines will also host Crandon in a nonconference game this Thursday, Feb. 7, at 7:15 p.m. A nonconference game against Phillips on Tuesday of this week was postponed and will likely not be played because the Loggers need to get in their conference games.