STMA boys’ hoops tied for 1st after key wins over conference rivals

STMA senior Justin McLain battles his way past two Buffalo defenders and sophomore Josh Tracy looks for a pass. (Photo by Sam Lefebvre/Wright County Journal Press)
STMA senior Justin McLain battles his way past two Buffalo defenders and sophomore Josh Tracy looks for a pass. (Photo by Sam Lefebvre/Wright County Journal Press)

Even though they started the week a game behind Buffalo in the Mississippi 8 standings, the St. Michael-Albertville boys’ basketball team knew they controlled its own destiny if they wanted to be conference champs.

First task at hand was a Feb. 12 matchup with Rogers. The Knights squeaked out a 62-60 win in a previous meeting in January at Rogers. STMA would equal its offensive output in the rematch – sweeping the season series with a 62-51 victory.

Rogers’ senior guard Cullen Loughlin scored 15 points and sophomore post Cole Murray added 14 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore guard Jackson Greenwaldt led the Knights with 21 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Cole Krutzig also finished with 12 points.

The victory kept the Knights on pace for its rematch with first-place Buffalo. STMA’s lone conference loss came in a 56-43 loss on Jan. 25 at home to the Bison. The Bison were a perfect 6-0 heading into the matchup Feb. 15 at Buffalo.

“We knew going into the week that we had to get two wins to keep our conference title hopes alive,” said STMA head coach Tim Anfenson. “Sometimes you get caught looking at wins-losses and it can get overwhelming. Our main focus late in the season is to just keep playing well.”

With three conference games left on the schedule, another loss to Buffalo would have all but sealed Buffalo’s attempt at a seventh consecutive M-8 title. A full 36 minutes of basketball would be the recipe for success and Anfenson said his team responded in a 54-51 road win.

“We’ve had games we’ve played a lot of good halves, but never could string two really good halves together,” Anfenson said. “Buffalo game we did that and every time they put charges at us, our guys answered. It was a very big win.”

Leading by a point, 28-27 at the half, STMA was being led in scoring by someone other than Greenwaldt. Senior forward Brian Ferry finished with 14 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field. He also collected five rebounds.

“When we lost to Buffalo the first time, we tried beating them along the perimeter,” Anfenson said. “This time we were able to get the ball inside to Ferry and he was a key inside player for us. He may have had his best game of his career.”

The Knights had to overcome a big effort from Buffalo senior forward Ethan Freer, who finished with 19 points and four steals. Ferry said it all came down to preparation.

“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Ferry said. “We knew it would be close and we just tried to stay focused and concentrate on our goal of contending for the conference title.”

Senior Cole Krutzig also had a big game. He finished with only six points, but collected 10 rebounds from the point guard position. Senior guard Justin McLain also had 10 points and Greenwaldt had 11.

“Cole had a great game and it’s nice getting added scoring from McLain off the bench,” Anfenson said. “It was a good feeling to beat Buffalo and Rogers in the same week. They are both great rivalry games.”

The Knights (13-9 overall, 6-1 M-8) are at Monticello for a 7:15 p.m. tip-off this Thursday night. Saturday night they hit the road for a 1:30 p.m. non-conference matchup at Duluth Denfeld. Monday the 25th they are at Big Lake.