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Prep boys basketball: Eskomos snap two-game skid with 86-80 win over Denfeld

Esko junior Koi Perich and Denfeld sophomore MarNaries Ferguson each scored 34 points to lead their respective teams.

Defender guards ball handler
Esko's Koi Perich is guarded by Deon'Tae Persaud-Davis of Denfeld during a Tuesday, Jan. 17 game at Esko High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal
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ESKO — After their team suffered its first two losses of the season at the hands of No. 9 Perham (AA) and No. 5 Maple Grove (AAAA) earlier this month, Esko junior Koi Perich and company helped ensure that a third-consecutive loss wasn’t in the cards against visiting Duluth Denfeld.

Perich poured in a team-high 34 points for the Eskomos to stave off the upset-minded Hunters in a back-and-forth 86-80 win, Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Esko High School.

The victory provided a welcomed boost of confidence for his club, according to head coach Derek Anderson.

“Any time you lose a game, you lose a little bit of your confidence and especially when you lose two in a row against two very high quality opponents, and then coming back to play Denfeld who’s going to be up for the game,” he said. “We knew it was going to be a battle and I was proud of our team for the way they worked and stuck with it and got the win.”

The win did not come easy, however, as the Eskomos surrendered a season-high 80 points thanks in large part to the work of Denfeld sophomore MarNaries Ferguson, whose hard drives to the baskets culminated in a 34-point night.

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Player drives to basket
Denfeld's MarNaries Ferguson drives through two defenders on his way to the basket during a game against Esko, Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Esko High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

“He got in there and he did exactly what we wanted him to do and it was attack and keep attacking,” Denfeld head coach Phil Homere said. “He's really good at that and that’s his biggest strength is getting to the hoop, and I feel like he did a really good job doing that.”

The difference in the game boiled down to late mistakes.

“If we could take back some of those turnovers that we had, I feel like it’s a different ending,” Homere said. “I was really proud of my guys’ effort, especially when we got down big early and we continued to fight. So I was very happy with that part of it.”

The Eskomos took little time to heat up in the first half as the club used quick ball movement to create multiple open looks for Sam Haugen, Cuinn Berger and Dalton Spindler for a combined seven makes from beyond the arc.

Shooter takes 3-point shot
Esko's Sam Haugen spots up for a three-point shot during a game against Denfeld, Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Esko High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

The efficient offensive display, combined with Perich’s 20 first-half points, pushed the home team to a 43-27 advantage midway through the half.

“We worked a lot at practice yesterday setting screens and creating for our teammates,” Anderson said. “Our two losses we found that we were kind of playing a lot of isolation basketball … I think tonight they did a good job of actually setting their teammates up for open shots and moving without the ball and setting some good screens to get easy looks out of it.”

Player shoots layup
Esko's Dalton Spindler goes up for a layup during a game against Denfeld, Tuesday, Jan. 17 at Esko High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

The Hunters, led by Ferguson and Aiden Altona, did not flinch in the face of the Esko onslaught as the visitors carried the play into halftime with a 16-6 scoring run to trim the deficit down to six at halftime at 49-43.

Undeterred, Esko quickly reclaimed the momentum out of the break and extended its lead to a game-high 18 at 69-51 following a steal and fastbreak layup by Perich.

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Denfeld once again provided Esko with all it could handle late in the game by cutting the deficit to five down the stretch 83-78, but was unable to complete the comeback with turnovers spoiling the late-game push.

Player looks for pass
Denfeld's Aiden Altona waits for the offense to set up while being guarded by Esko's Cuinn Berger during a Tuesday, Jan. 17 game at Esko High School.
Amy Arntson / Cloquet Pine Journal

The Eskomos (8-2) will return to the home court Friday, Jan. 20, to take on Moose Lake-Willow River at 7:15 p.m. The Hunters (7-8) will travel cross-town to take on East Thursday, Jan. 19, at 7 p.m.

Duluth Denfeld 43-37--80

Esko 49-37--86

Duluth Denfeld -- A. Altona 18, D. Moore 6, L. Koski 5, E. Sterstead 5, M. Ferguson 34, D. Pesaud-Davis 4, F. Powell 8, C. Abernathy 2, . Totals 33 8-13 80.

3-point goals -- Altona 2, Koski 1, Ferguson 1, Powell 2, .

Esko -- Carter Zezulka 6, Koi Perich 34, Sam Haugen 16, Dalton Spindler 12, Cuinn Berger 12, Braedyn Male 6, . Totals 35 9-14 86.

3-point goals -- Haugen 4, Spindler 2, Berger 3.

Jake Przytarski is a reporter for the Cloquet Pine Journal covering a mix of news and sports.
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