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Prep boys basketball: Panthers' physical play stymies Tigers

After losing by 41 points to the No. 1-ranked team in Division III, the Tigers will work on reducing mental mistakes and executing their game plan.

Northwestern’s Cole Lahti (22) and Superior’s Daynen Lull (3) battle for a rebound
Northwestern’s Cole Lahti (22) and Superior’s Daynen Lull (3) battle for a rebound in the first half of the game in Superior on Tuesday evening, Dec. 13. Lahti is the Tigers' leading scorer.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram
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WEST SALEM, Wis. — The Northwestern boys basketball team played physical opponents at the West Salem Holiday Classic and left with a 1-1 record.

First, they played the host West Salem Panthers in a 41-point loss but were able to ramp up their physicality for the second game against Sparta.

“Both teams are bigger schools, but West Salem is the big reason we came down here and they put it to us, but it’s a game we know we can certainly come back from,” said coach Nolan Graff about the No. 1-ranked team in the WIAA's Division III.

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The Tiger's leading scorer, Cole Lahti, backed up his coach, “Little different perspective about the basketball played throughout the state, pretty competitive and they are always going to give you a physical battle.”

The Tigers and Panthers came into the game with an undefeated record but would have to wait for the Sparta Spartans and Elk Mound to play first. Elk Mound won the game by a score of 72-43, with three players scoring over 14 points.

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The Tigers, who have been known for their fast-paced and high-scoring offense were stifled by the Panthers, who came out with a defensive intensity Northwestern had not seen.

“They were pressuring the ball and were physical up high with us which made it hard to move on offense,” senior Jase Nelson said.

Superior’s Daynen Lull (3) and Northwestern’s Jase Nelson (21) both go after a rebound
Superior’s Daynen Lull (3) and Northwestern’s Jase Nelson (21) both go after a rebound in the first half of the game in Superior on Tuesday evening, Dec. 13.
Jed Carlson / File / Superior Telegram

The Panthers' strategy worked, as the Tigers scored 19 points in the first half and finished the game scoring less than 70 points total for the first time this season.

Graff felt his team made many mistakes and didn’t match the physicality of the Panthers in the first game.

“That’s why this trip was also really good for us; we got the chance to see the No. 1 team — a team we would have to beat to ultimately get to state. It showed us the physicality that we will have to answer to,” Graff said.

On the opposite end of the ball, the Panthers scored in transition and shared the ball, as five players ended up in double figures, led by junior Tamarrein Henderson with 17 points. The final score was 91-52 in favor of the Panthers, who ended up defeating Elk Mound 69-41 on the second day of the tournament to remain undefeated.

Ahead of their matchup with Sparta on the second day of the tournament, the Tigers focused on what they did well against West Salem and hoped it would translate to a better outcome.

The Tigers found their groove in the second game, finishing with 81 points and holding Sparta to only 66. Offensively the Tigers were led by senior captains Nelson and Lahti who posted 24 and 26 points, respectively, and also combined for 16 assists.

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The Tigers will look to improve on their execution, as well as reduce their number of mental mistakes.

“When you start to play teams like the No. 1 team in the state — one of the best teams across any division — you need to do a better job of executing and minimizing the mental mistakes and we had a lot of them, not only in that game, but against Sparta as well,” Graff said. “As a team going into the new yea,r there’s more of a focus on eliminating those mental errors.”

Jeffrey McClure is a student at the University of Wisconsin-Superior. He contributes to the Superior Telegram as a freelance reporter.
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