It was a tale of two halves for the Superior High School boys basketball team in its Lake Superior Conference contest with the Proctor Rails Tuesday night in the SHS gym.
The Spartans, who trailed by eight points twice in the first half, and eventually trailed 36-34 at the intermission, scored the first six points of the second half and never looked back as they won 79-73.
Xavier Patterson gave the Spartans the spark they needed when back-to-back steals led to Kaleb Zentkowski layups in the opening 20 seconds of the second half.
Another Proctor turnover turned into a Cam Borgh basket and the Spartans led 40-36.
“I told Xavier it was fun to watch him play there for a while tonight,” SHS coach Jake Smith said. “That’s the hardest I’ve seen him work on the defensive end of the floor all year. He showed tonight that he can defend so it will be nice to watch him grow on the defensive end of the floor.”
With the Spartans leading 46-41, they scored 12 straight and opened up a 58-41 lead thanks to a Ben Rhodes 3-pointer, a Mason Ackley basket and free throw, and back-to-back 3-pointers by Zentkowski.
“We just did what coach told us and it worked,” Patterson said. “He told us to be more aggressive on defense and just start pushing on offense and attack the hoop every chance we could.”
The Spartans went cold for a bit, failing to score on about five straight possessions, but Corey Sanders snapped the drought with a free throw for a 59-48 lead with 8:54 remaining.
The lead stayed around double digits for the next four minutes before Proctor was able to whittle the lead to five points (74-69) on a John Pioro 3-pointer with 1:05 remaining.
Two free throws apiece by Rhodes and Patterson, and one by Zentkowski, helped seal the victory and improve the Spartans to 7-8 on the season.
“That’s been the story our last three games,” Smith said. “Against East and Cloquet we didn’t show what we can do in the first half. That spark during that two-minute stretch we had in the second half was nice to see and is something we really needed. Our guys were getting after it, working hard and just having fun out there.”
Patterson led the Spartans with 24 points and Beau Severson and Zentkowski both made three 3-pointers on their way to scoring 15 and 14 points, respectively.
“I was happy for Kaleb, he’s a kid that works very hard, is always shooting in the gym and tonight to see him go 3-for-4 from the 3-point line was big for his confidence,” Smith said. “It was also nice to see Beau making 3s in the first half and then finding his shots down low in the second.
“We had nice balance all around. We have a lot of guys that can score, and what’s kind of fun is you never know what couple of guys it’s going to be each night. It’s always somebody different.”
Pioro and Brody Eldien scored 64 of Proctor’s 73 points. Pioro finished with 35 points and Eldien, a 6-foot-6 senior, had 29 points.
Wow, those guys are good,” Smith said. “Pioro is a very good playmaker, and a phenomenal passer. He a tough matchup because he can also shoot it.”
After the game opened with ties of 2-2 and 4-4, the Rails opened up their first eight-point lead (15-7) on three straight baskets by Eldien.
The Spartans got within 20-18 on a basket by Patterson and a 3-pointer by Severson, but a pair of Pioro baskets later on gave the Rails a 28-20 lead.
Back-to-back 3-point plays by Patterson, and Severson’s 3-pointer from the top of the key gave Superior its first lead of the game, 29-28, with 3:18 left in the first half.
A Sanders’ 3-pointer gave Superior its second lead, 34-32, with 1:10 remaining, but Proctor tied it up on an Eldien basket with 10 seconds showing.
An over-and-back call on Superior was followed by a Pioro basket at the buzzer which gave the Rails a 36-34 halftime lead.
The Spartans, who played at Duluth Denfeld Thursday, host Bemidji at 7:15 p.m. today.
SPARTAN SPIN: Pioro is the son of Rob Pioro, a former Spartan who graduated in 1976 and later coached of the SHS girls basketball team for the 2005-06 season … Superior was 14-of-25 from the free-throw line and Proctor was 6-of-6. … The SHS JV won 51-48. Kaden Kimmes had 24 points and Jarrett Gronski was next with 15.
Proctor 36 37 — 73
Superior 34 45 — 79
Proctor — John Pioro 35, Brody Eldien 29, Cody Hampton 6, Dylan Hom 3. Totals: 30 6-6 73
3-point goals — Pioro 5, Hom, Eldien.
Superior — Xavier Patterson 24, Beau Severson 15, Kaleb Zentkowski 14, Ben Rhodes 8, Mason Ackley 7, Corey Sanders 7, Cam Borgh 4. Totals: 27 14-25 79.
3-point goals — Zentkowski 3, Severson 3, Rhodes 2, Sanders.