Esko tops Barnum, retains Section 7AA boys basketball title
Esko forward Nate Johnson was concerned about being able to walk, much less play basketball after reinjuring his troublesome right ankle on Tuesday. But the senior didn't just play, he excelled. Johnson and Jaxson Turner scored 13 points apiece t...
Esko forward Nate Johnson was concerned about being able to walk, much less play basketball after reinjuring his troublesome right ankle on Tuesday.
But the senior didn’t just play, he excelled.
Johnson and Jaxson Turner scored 13 points apiece to lead the Eskomos to a 42-28 victory over top-seeded Barnum in the Section 7AA boys basketball championship Thursday before about 2,000 at Romano Gym.
Esko (23-7), the defending Class AA champion, advances to its third straight state tournament and fifth overall.
“You can’t beat it,” Johnson said. “This just feels awesome. It feels great to carry on the legacy of the ‘Big Three.’ ”
The Big Three would be 2014 News Tribune All-Area player of the year Kory Deadrick, Marc Peterson and Casey Staniger. The first two are now playing college basketball, and the third probably would as well except for lingering back issues.
With their graduation, some may have thought the Eskomos were a long shot to make the state tournament this year, but they’ve clearly reloaded. Esko is the healthiest it has been all season and, no coincidence, playing its best basketball of the season.
“If we play defense like we did this game, I like our chances,” Esko coach Mike Devney said.
Barnum beat Esko 62-48 on Dec. 19 in Barnum, but the Eskomos were without 6-foot-11 freshman Adam Trapp, who had broken fingers on his right hand. Trapp had eight points Thursday while disrupting senior guard Brandon Newman and the Barnum offense.
Newman capped his stellar career with 20 points in a heartbreaking loss for the Bombers (28-2), who were playing in their second straight section final after moving to Class AA last year.
“Adam is a game-changer,” Devney said. “Brandon is the player of the year in our area, in my opinion, but he likes to drive to the basket, but that is harder to do when there is a 6-foot-11 guy clogging the lane.”
Esko led 19-16 at the break, with Newman scoring all 16 of the Bombers’ points. Perhaps he wore down a bit in the second half carrying the offensive load, with Turner hounding him all game.
When a girls opponent has a tall player, girls teams will practice with a tall guy in the middle on the scout team. With Trapp, there really is no substitute.
“We had to get the 6-foot-11 guy out of the post,” Barnum coach Rich Newman said. “You can’t practice for that, you can’t schedule games for that, because nobody else has that. It’s hard to simulate, and we had a tough road just to get here, so we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for it.”
The teams were tied late in the second half when Johnson buried one of his three 3-pointers. Esko knows what to do when it has the lead late in the game, which is control the ball (some would say stall), and make free throws when the opportunity presents itself. Despite a few late misses, Esko was 14-for-23 from the line.
Brandon Newman, one of eight Barnum seniors, is still undecided on where he would like to play in college and was hoping the state tournament would give him added exposure. Barnum, which lost in the section final to Esko last year, is the smallest school in Class AA.
“This was a great group. About three times more seniors than we’ve ever had,” Rich Newman said. “They are what high school sports are all about, playing for their hometown team. I still have a photo of them when they were in second grade. They were born Barnum.”
Johnson, meanwhile, will be looking to get healthy by next week. He missed nearly a month after injuring his right ankle earlier this season. He hurt the same ankle again in a 57-30 victory over Deer River in Tuesday’s semifinals.
“It looked worse than it was,” said the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Johnson, who played defensive end for Esko’s football team. “For a second there (Wednesday), I was worried I’d even be able to play. But I’m getting used to rehabbing it. I think I’m getting better at it.”
Esko - Jaxson Turner 13, Derek Pantsar 2, Isaak Blue 1, Aaron Olson 5, Nate Johnson 13, Adam Trapp 8. Totals 12 14-23 42.
3-point goal - Johnson 3, Olson.
Barnum - Brandon Newman 20, Mitchell Weller 3, Hunter Fetters 5. Totals 9 8-10 28.
3-point goals - Newman, Weller.