Litchfield Dragons accept the challenges dealt
Litchfield manages shot clock to slow down Moose Lake/Willow River, 64-56 in the first round of the St. Cloud Cathedral tournament
ST. CLOUD — There were two main challenges presented to the Litchfield boys basketball team heading into the 22nd Annual St. Cloud Cathedral Christmas Classic.
Both were handled well in Litchfield’s 64-56 victory over Moose Lake/Willow River on Thursday.
Foremost, the Dragons had to deal with Moose Lake/Willow River, which brought a 7-0 record into its first-round game. Note that the Rebels average 89.4 points per game and scored 102 and 103 in their last two games. They also hit triple digits in their season-opener, a 101-91 victory at Virginia.
“We definitely knew they were really capable of putting up some points,” Litchfield senior forward Ben Nelson said. “It was a really exciting game, really intense, really fun to play.”
Perhaps no team was better suited to deal with the quirk in the Cathedral Christmas Classic format: All games are played with a 35-second shot clock. That’s been the case for the past 15 years.
That was Litchfield’s other challenge.
The Dragons try to make sure all their shots are good, open ones. Shot clocks mean rushing. A hurry-up offense is not Litchfield’s style.
Both issues were sufficiently confronted and dealt with Thursday. Litchfield played its variety of defenses, slowing down the Rebels. And the shot clock was barely a factor.
“We spent about five or 10 minutes in practice on it,” Dragons head coach Matt Draeger said of the shot clock. “We talked about it a little bit, and then we set it up.
“The first three times we had the ball, we put it right up ... boom, boom, boom.
“At this point, we’re not going to change a lot, not for only three games in our season.”
The other thing the Dragons aren’t ready to change is getting the ball to Avery Liestman.
The junior forward had 26 points and eight rebounds against Moose Lake/Willow River. It’s the third straight game he has had 25 or more points.
“He’s a good shooter and he moves really well without the ball,” Draeger said. “He’s really hard to guard.
“He didn’t have that good a game offensively (against the Rebels). And you’re telling me he had (26 points).”
Litchfield led 27-24 at halftime. The Dragons opened up a 10-point lead to start the second half and never trailed, though the Rebels made it interesting.
“They’re really good offensively,” Liestman said. “They shoot the ball well.”
They were just OK, this night. Moose Lake/Willow River shot 43 percent (13 of 40) from two-point range and 35 percent (8 of 23) from three-point range. That’s 40 percent (21 of 53) overall.
The Rebels were led by Mason Olson, who had 24 points.
“He’s a good player,” Liestman said.
Litchfield shot 47 percent (25 of 53), including 60 percent (18 of 30) from two-point range. The Dragons made 30 percent (7 of 23) from 3-point range.
While the Rebels never tied it up in the second half, they did it get to 58-56 with 1:54 to go. The Dragons got an easy basket underneath when Logan Graphenteen was left wide open. His basket made it 61-56. After trading turnovers, Litchfield got a lay-up and free throw from Tyson Michels to go up 64-56 with 33 seconds left.
That held and the Dragons had an exciting win.
They advance to the semifinals. They play Melrose at 4 p.m. Friday at Cathedral. Melrose beat Concordia Academy of Roseville 53-47 to advance.
Concordia and Moose Lake/Willow River play at 11 a.m. Friday in the traditional, eight-team bracket.
The championship game is for 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Litchfield last won the Crusader Christmas Classic in 2003. Moose Lake/Willow River won it in 1999.
The Litchfield girls also play in a four-team tournament at Cathedral. The Dragons face Cathedral at 6 p.m. Friday. The other side of the bracket has Melrose and Concordia Academy. The third-place game is 2:30 p.m. Saturday and the championship is set for 4 p.m.
The Dragons boys, meanwhile, know they’ll have their hands full with Melrose, which has won this tournament in 2009, ‘12, ‘14 and ‘16. The Dutchmen are 6-2. Their losses are to unbeaten Osakis (60-57 Dec. 19) and at Minnewaska Area (56-44 Dec. 10). They are led by Rowan Nelson, a 6-foot-5 junior.
“They are going to be a handful,” Draeger said.
ML/WR (7-1) 24 32 — 56
Litchfield (6-1) 27 37 — 64
MOOSE LAKE/WILLOW RIVER - Scoring: Logan Orvedahl 6, Ben Dwey 7, Brady Watrin 7, Mason Olson 24, Michael Olson 6, Landin Kurhajetz 6 … 3-point shots: Orvedahl 2, Dewey 1, Watrin 3, Ma. Olson 3, Mi. Olson 2 … Rebound leaders: Watrin 6, Ma. Olson 5 … Assist leader: N/A … Steal leaders: Watrin 2, Mi. Olson 2 ... Block leader: Kurhajetz 1
LITCHFIELD - Scoring: Ben Alsleben 2, Tyson Michels 10, Avery Liestman 26, Tanner Ziegenhagen 9, Logan Graphenteen 5, Drew Kotzer 4, Ben Nelson 8 … 3-point shots: Michels 1, Liestman 4, Ziegenhagen 1, Graphenteen 1 … Rebound leaders: Liestman 8, Michels 5, Nelson 5 … Assist leaders: Kotzer 4, Michels 3, Nelson 3 … Steal leaders: Alsleben 2, Michels 2, Nelson 2, ... Block leaders: Michels 1, Nelson 1