Prep boys basketball: Christianson’s defense lifts Hermantown past Cloquet
Lumberjack senior Conner Barney scored 39 points in the loss.
HERMANTOWN — Midway through the second half, Hermantown’s 16-point halftime lead over Cloquet had been cut to four points.
Enter junior Keaton Christianson. Christianson hit a 3-pointer to stop the bleeding and over the final 10 minutes of the game he made four steals that led to layups in a 96-80 win in a Lake Superior Conference matchup Thursday in Hermantown.
“We knew we had to really pressure their guard because we knew they’d caught it and under pressure, they really struggled," Christianson said. “As long as we brought ball pressure, they were going to give it up and we were going to have a chance to get a steal.”
Christianson finished with 23 points and had a similar run at the end of the first half where he scored six straight points during a 9-0 run that gave the Hawks a 56-40 lead at the break.
“When we needed to stop their run, when we need to hold on, he’s the guy we go to,” coach Andy Fenske said. “He finds ways to get a hand in the lane.”
Hermantown has been playing very well, according to Fenske, and the coaching staff is seeing growth they don’t normally see until much later in the season.
“In the past month our guys are stepping up,” Fenske said. “They’re bringing a different attitude to practice and games. We’ve got guys buying into the role and they’re just executing in every way that we ask them. They’re a super coachable team, they’re doing everything they need to do.”
Cloquet coach Steve Battaglia said the team’s defense in the first half was poor, allowing the Hawks to penetrate and kick out for nine 3-pointers in the first half alone. The Lumberjacks also didn’t play well as a team on the offensive end.
“We played a lot of one-on-one basketball,” Battaglia said. “Five individuals out there versus the team trying to move the ball and find the right guy and make the right pass. I thought we were selfish on offense.”
Cloquet senior Conner Barney scored 39 points and Marco Mayorga finished with 20, but no other Lumberjack player scored more than seven points.
While Battaglia wasn’t happy with the team’s performance, particularly in the first half, he was happy with the way they rallied from a large halftime deficit.
“It’s not like we rolled over and died and got beat by 50,” Battaglia said. “We battled back and with under 10 minutes to go it was a four-point game. I was proud of that, we were right there and then they came down and banged a couple 3s and stretched it back out to 10.”
In addition to Christianson, Abe Soumis scored 20 for Hermantown and four Hawk players scored at least 15 points.
Hermantown (9-4) doesn’t have time to rest, though, with a game at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at 10-6 Superior. The Spartans lost to Esko Thursday, 88-77, but they’ve won four of five and Fenske knows the Hawks will need to play well to win.
“We’ve got to do the quick turnaround with one practice to get ready for Superior,” Fenske said. “These boys are going to come dialed in ready for practice…They’re bringing energy every day, which is not easy to do, but that’s just the type of character that these kids have.”
Cloquet (5-5) will play at Virginia at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday.
Cloquet — Reese Sheldon 2, Conner Barney 39, Seth Rothamel 4, Alec Turnbull 7, Caleb Hansen 6, Marco Mayorca 20, Orville Councillor 2. Totals 29 13-21 78.
3-point goals — Conner Barney 4, Caleb Hansen.
Hermantown — Blake Schmitz 17, Abe Soumis 20, Michael Lau 6, Keaton Christianson 23, Nate Hill 6, Drew Schmitz 5, Payton Menzel 4, Broc Sundland 15. Totals 37 10-12 96.
3-point goals — Blake Schmitz 2, Abe Soumis 3, Keaton Christianson, Drew Schmitz, Broc Sundland 5.
Blake Schmitz (0) of Hermantown takes the ball to the hoop against Cloquet on Thursday Jan., 13, 2022, at the Hermantown Hawks Gymnasium.