The Northland Pines boys basketball team played at Tomahawk and came away with a convincing 81-24 victory in the Great Northern Conference (GNC) game last Friday.

The Eagles stormed out of the gate, building a 14-0 lead led by Nolan Lurvey’s three 3-point baskets and some hustling full-court defense that led to some easy baskets.

The Hatchets struggled with the Eagles’ defensive intensity as the lead grew to 24-2 with 8 minutes remaining in the half. Pines eventually led 55-13 at the intermission.

“I was a little concerned coming into this game with only one practice this week because of cancellations, but our guys played with great poise and energy and really looked smooth,” said Pines coach Terry Klemett. “We have struggled with Tomahawk in the past in certain areas and we really did a nice job of keeping them off balance on both sides of the ball.”

Pines continued its excellent half-court defense in the second half and moved the ball exceptionally well on offense for easy baskets to push the lead to 62-18 with 10 minutes remaining in the game.

The Eagles got contributions from players off the bench and was able to rest some regular players early with a running clock, building a 73-20 advantage with 4 minutes left. Pines closed out the Hatchets with a convincing 57-point win, shooting a blistering 23-of-34 from the floor and 14-of-17 from the free throw line.

“I was pleased with the overall game we played and the intensity we played with,” said Klemett. “Everyone got a chance to play and played well. You can’t ask for a better game from us.”

Gabe Smith led the Eagles with 20 points, followed by Lurvey’s 17 and Kadin Kroeplin’s 16. The Eagles are now 6-1 in the GNC, trailing Medford by half a game for first place.

Tough road loss

The Eagles traveled to seventh-ranked Catholic Memorial in Waukesha Saturday and came up short in a 61-47 loss to one of the best teams in Division 3.

Both teams started out with great intensity on defense and the Eagles got on the board first with a Griffin Stiemke put back. The Crusaders got a strong post basket to tie the game 2-2 with 14 minutes to go in the half.

A Ryan Muench steal and bucket put the Eagles up 4-2 as both teams continued to work the ball on offense. The Crusaders eventually hit a corner triple to go up 5-4 with 11 minutes to go. A Smith bucket and Stiemke drive and finish put Pines up 8-5 with 10 minutes to play.

The Crusaders got some offensive rebounds and another corner three to go up 12-9 with 7 minutes to play in the half. Pines then went on a cold shooting streak over the next few minutes and the Crusaders increased their lead up 15-9 with 5 minutes remaining in the half.

Kroeplin got a nice bucket around the rim on the Eagles’ next possession to cut the Crusaders’ lead to four at 15-11 with 3:30 left in the half, but the Crusaders would capitalize on the Eagles’ shooting misfortunes and went on an 8-0 run to build a 23-11 lead with 2 minutes remaining. A Pines’ bucket and two offensive put backs would see the Crusaders up 27-13 at the break.

“We played great defense, but had a couple rebounding break downs, plus we couldn’t make a shot,” said Klemett. “We were 0-for-11 from the 3-point line at the half and that’s just settling too much. When you can get a post touch and you can’t make a shot from deep, you’re going to have a problem against any team, let alone one of the best in the state.”

The second half saw the Eagles come alive on the offensive end. A couple tough Smith post ups for baskets and a Muench post move got the Eagles within striking distance at 27-19 with 14 minutes to play. The home team continued to make tough shots, keeping the Eagles at bay, leading 31-23 with 10 minutes to play.

“I thought we finally got physical with them offensively to start the second half. We moved the ball and Gabe Smith was proving to be too much for them,” said Klemett.

The Crusaders’ lead eventually grew to 15 points with 8 minutes remaining, up 40-25, but the Eagles’ Miles McCanles hit three straight triples to get the Eagles within eight points with 4 minutes remaining in the game.

But the Crusaders countered with back-to-back triples of their own to push the lead back to 14 points, up 54-40. Muench and Smith both scored on post buckets, but it would prove to be too late as the Eagles fell to the Crusaders 61-47.

“We didn’t capitalize on anything we had chances with in the first half. We scored 34 points in the second half and did a great job of being strong with the ball going towards the basket and not settling for three pointers,” said Klemett.

The Eagles were 4-of-5 from three and 9-of-18 from the floor in the second half, didn’t turn the ball over, and rebounded better, according to Klemett. Muench led the Eagles with 13 points, followed by Smith’s 10.

“Give credit to Catholic Memorial; they have a very good ball club and they are well coached. We don’t see the type of intensity like they do every day. Our guys played hard,” said Klemett. “I am proud of our team and our schedule is not easy and there is a reason for that. We are a very good basketball team and we will be prepared for the rest of the season with these tough games.”

Northland Pines fell to 12-4 on the season with the four losses only coming from state-ranked opponents. The Eagles will travel to GNC rival Rhinelander this Friday, Jan. 27, for a 7:15 p.m. contest.

Next Tuesday, Jan. 31, Pines will host Wausau East in a nonconference game starting at 7:15 p.m.