Lee Graff fearlessly drives the lane between West Iron defenders Brock Hopkins (left) and Ryan Rogers in action from Jan. 17. Graff’s 20 points led Forest Park in their win at Carney on Jan. 25.
CRYSTAL FALLS—Think that subzero cold spell last week didn’t do anybody any good? It sure helped Forest Park’s boys basketball team, who came home from Carney-Nadeau Jan. 25 with an impressive 70-67 win.
The win gives the Trojans a 6-3 overall record and makes them 3-1 and suddenly among the leaders in the well-balanced Skyline Conference, where nobody is unbeaten.
Coach Chris Nocerini said when the Trojans’ Jan. 22 game with North Dickinson was postponed (to Feb. 18) by the icy weather, it gave them some extra time to prepare for the Carney game. Prepare, they did.
Im-pressive: Carney’s boys team is known for several things: reaching the state Class D semifinals last spring, shooting three-pointers all the time and pressing opponents relentlessly.
With extra time to prepare and school called off, Coach Nocerini had the Trojan reserves act as a scout team, running Carney’s various presses against the starters. That gave the starting five a preview of what they would face Friday night—and a chance to work out solutions.
“In years past,” the coach said, “teams would put pressure on us, and we would struggle. Our kids—I’m just so dang proud of all of them.”
Sweet spots: He had also noticed that the Wolves have their favorite places to shoot threes in their sub-compact gym. This intelligence was passed along to the team.
“We knew where the majority of the threes were coming from. Austin Snell and Jeff Johnson and L.J. Burns were on the wings, and they did a great job of closing out on those threes and being ready for them.”
As expected, the Wolves came out fast and hard, pressing the Trojans from the start. The team had been told to just weather that first wave and hang in there.
“And we did. Lee [Graff] hit some big shots before halftime.” Graff scored nine in the second quarter. Forest Park fell behind but only trailed 34-28 at halftime
Nocerini: “I told the guys, You know what? This is good! We weathered the storm. Now it’s our turn to go at them.”
Adjustments: The Trojans also made a strategic change for the second half, putting Graff at the front of the defense, and making changes with wings to keep track of Carney’s main scoring threats.
It got results: Forest Park blasted Carney with a 17-0 run and outscored the Wolves 26-9 in the third quarter to take a 54-43 lead into the fourth quarter.
“In their building, that’s unreal. It’s one of the toughest gymnasiums to win in.” Later on, the Wolves got frustrated and forced threes from far outside.
At the end: It came down to the end, with the Trojans trying to stay in front—Carney had rallied to within four when Snell’s three-pointer put FP up by seven with 2½ minutes left. “We were struggling for points at that time.”
Down the stretch, Chris Hilberg had a big block and Snell made two clutch free throws to put the Trojans up by six. Fortunate that he did: Carney hit a three at the end to make it a three-point win.
“I give our guys on the bench, who didn’t play that much that night—they deserve as much credit if not more than the kids who played the game,” the coach said. “They really made our guys work this week.
“Our 13 kids, every one of them, can feel really good about this one, because they all contributed to it.”
Graff led FP with 20 points, Snell added 18, Hilberg had 13 and Derek Aberly added 12. For Carney, Keenen Lampinen (25) and Wade Schetter (22) led the way.
Numbers: FP team: 19-50 2’s (38%), 8-16 3’s (50%), 8-11 FT (73%), 17 fouls, 45 rebounds. Carney team: 15-40 2’s (38%), 10-34 3’s (29%), 7-11 FT (64%).
FP stats: Lee Graff, 20 points, 2x3; Austin Snell, 18 pts, 2x3, 8 rebs, 5 assists; Chris Hilberg, 13 pts, 3x3, 10 rebs; Derek Aberly, 12 pts, 8 rebs; Jeff Johnson, 5 pts, 3 stls. Carney stats: Wade Schetter, 22 pts, 3x3; Keenan Lampinen, 25 pts, 3x3; Jason Dupont, 12 pts, 4x3.
Trojans 14 14 26 16 -- 70
Wolves 20 14 9 24 -- 67
Coming up: Two more Skyline battles are on tap this week The Trojans visit Mid Peninsula on Jan. 29 and return home to face powerful North Central Feb. 1. On Feb. 5, they host North Dickinson.