Unruffled: Rattled Redhawks rally to victory
DES MOINES – Maturity and composure are two assets Brandon Clubb’s veteran bunch hangs its hat on.
But the bright lights of Wells Fargo Arena can test any player’s nerves.
Responding to an impassioned halftime speech from Clubb with a back-to-basics approach, sixth-ranked North Tama looked the part of a savvy senior squad in the second half.
Outscoring Ankeny Christian Academy 23-5 over an eight and a half minute span after halftime, the Redhawks rallied for a 47-45 quarterfinal round victory in the Class 1A Iowa Boys High School State Basketball Tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.
“Very uncharacteristic of the way we want to play in the first half,” said Clubb of his squad, which shot just 36 percent and turned the ball over 10 times to trail 25-15 at the break. “In the second half we settled down a bit and played the way we needed to play.”
JJ Waddle’s 3-pointer two minutes into the third equaled ACA’s largest lead at 29-19 before North Tama picked up its intensity and countered with a 12-3 surge.
The Redhawks made it a point to get to the paint as a driving layup from Dalton Hulme and free throws from Mitchell Boerm pulled North Tama within three. Boerm’s drive led to a drew Ben Taylor’s fourth foul – his third in less than two minutes – sending the Eagles’ leading scorer and rebounder to the bench.
“Watching film we noticed a lot of teams would go around him or try to avoid him because he has (103) blocks on the season,” Boerm said. “We knew if we got him in foul trouble early, they’d be a different team without him – so we just decided to go at him.”
Scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points after intermission, Boerm knotted the game at 34 with 7:28 to play. Moments later, Skyler Kvidera’s free throw gave North Tama its first lead, before tacking on two more.
Taylor, the lone senior on ACA’s roster, fouled out with 4:11 to play and finished with eight points – half of his season average – on 2-of-8 shooting.
Boerm extended the Redhawks’ 10-0 flurry with two more baskets and a free throw to secure their largest lead at 42-34 with 3:48 left.
Still, North Tama couldn’t close the door as it missed 12 free throws in the fourth quarter and made just 14-of-32 in the game to let the Eagles hang around. Damon Stubbs’ triple brought ACA within four with 47 seconds left, before a layup and two free throws from Chayton Tonemah trimmed the deficit to 46-45 with 10 ticks on the clock.
After the Redhawks converted just one of their last four at the line, the Eagles set up one last shot with 1.4 seconds to play, but Stubbs’ half-court heave was off the mark.
“We told the kids after the game, ‘It’s March Madness, you have to survive and advance – we did that,” Clubb said. “You forget about this one. You just have to win and move on to the next one.”
North Tama (26-1) advances to play No. 4 ranked Boyden-Hull (23-3) in the semifinal round Thursday at 12:15 p.m. The Comets defeated the Lions 58-54 in quarterfinal action Monday.
The Redhawks will likely want to forget Monday’s first half and the second quarter in particular. Struggling to get the ball inside against the Eagles’ 1-1-3 defense, North Tama tied the game at 10 early in the second, before ACA responded with an 11-2 spurt. Tomenah and Daniel Strong and hit back-to-back treys, before Stubbs added another. Taylor’s putback to stretch the gap to 21-12 with 1:45 to go in the half.
Tomenah led the Eagles (24-2) with 14 points and scored 10 of the team’s first 13 as ACA’s drive and kick game set up some open looks early. Those openings closed in the second half when the Redhawks sharpened their focus and defense.
“We picked our defense up and kind of accepted the atmosphere,” said Kvidera of the Redhawks’ second half effort. “We slowed down, got it inside and made our shots when we needed to.”
Kvidera and Dalton Hulme each scored eight points, while Boerm grabbed seven boards and had three blocks in North Tama’s 16th straight win. Stubbs added 13 points, while Taylor grabbed 10 rebounds for ACA, which saw its’ 12-game win streak come to an end.
Meanwhile, the Redhawks got their first-game jitters out of the way as they prepare for the Class 1A defending state champs.
“You have an awe moment when you come into the gym,” said Hulme of entering Wells Fargo Arena. “You just have to get that out of your system and start playing.”
North Tama senior Mitchell Boerm was recognized on the 23rd annual Academic All-State team. To be nominated for consideration, players must meet three minimums: a 25 ACT composite, 3.25 GPA and a class rank in the top 25 percent of their senior class. Over 150 nominations are chosen before a panel of Iowa Basketball Coaches Association directors selects the players for the team. … North Tama outscored ACA in the paint 22-12 and off the bench 12-0.