FIELD TWP- With three games in six days to open the 2021 high school boys basketball season, the North Woods Grizzlies have experienced both feast and famine, scoring blowout wins at Carlton and …
FIELD TWP- With three games in six days to open the 2021 high school boys basketball season, the North Woods Grizzlies have experienced both feast and famine, scoring blowout wins at Carlton and Cherry with a lackluster loss at home against Northland sandwiched between them.
North Woods came roaring out of the gate last Thursday at Carlton, with their pressure defense, running game, and offensive sets clicking about as well as Head Coach Will Kleppe could ask for in a season-opening 110-46 thrashing of the Bulldogs.
Led by lights-out shooting and 34 points by Jared Chiabotti, the Grizzlies could have gone scoreless in the second half and still won the game by 20, piling up 66 points by halftime while holding Carlton to 22.
Creating turnovers and cashing in on the other end of the court is a hallmark of Grizzlies basketball, and North Woods defenders wreaked havoc on the outmatched Bulldogs, converting 29 turnovers into 44 points. T.J. Chiabotti, Alex Hartway, and Brenden Chiabotti benefitted from the relentless pressure by scoring 18, 17, and 13 points respectively.
The Grizzlies made 50.6 percent of their shots and nailed 15 of the 32 three-pointers they put up. Jared Chiabotti hit six of his ten trey attempts.
While obviously pleased with the outcome, Kleppe didn’t let the final score obscure his game assessment.
“A typical first game,” he said. “A little sloppy for both teams, but we shot the ball well so we opened the game up early. It was evident that kids were still trying to find their roles on the floor, but that will be a work in progress. Overall we had no problem with effort and hustle.”
When the Grizzlies took to the floor on Saturday for their home opener, their foe was bigger, stronger, and more talented than Carlton, and the Northland Eagles were primed for an upset.
Both teams struggled in the early going, but Darius Goggleye scored on a putback of a missed shot to stake the Grizzlies to a 14-9 lead.
Northland fought back with five players scoring in a 14-2 blitz that put the Eagles up 23-16 at the 8:45 mark, and suddenly the Grizzlies found themselves in catch-up mode.
But good ball handling and high-percentage shooting kept North Woods from revving up its transition scoring attack, and in the face of a stout Eagles defense the Grizzlies’ shooters went cold. By halftime the Eagles had forged a 44-31 lead.
By aggressively attacking the bucket and passing out to the perimeter, four Northland players notched double-digit scoring efforts, led by sophomore Alec Wake’s 30 points. Aided by subpar North Woods shooting, the Eagles stretched their lead to as many as 20 points in the second half before settling for an 81-67 win.
Three late three-pointers boosted Jared Chiabotti to the top of North Woods scorers with 18. T.J. Chiabotti and Goggleye did most of their damage inside, scoring 16 and 14 points. Overall, the Grizzlies converted on only 36 percent of their shots from the field, hit 50 percent of their free throws, and saw their points off turnovers drop to 18.
“We got outplayed,” Kleppe said. “It was a good eye opener for us that a lot of teams are going to measure their success by how they do against us. We had a bad shooting night, which is going to happen from time to time. Our issue was that poor shooting led to a lack of focus and intensity on the defensive end. We didn’t mix it up on the boards like we have to do as a smaller team, but the positive was I knew we would come back refocused and work harder the next time.”
The Grizzlies were indeed primed to bounce back when they invaded the Cherry High School gym on Tuesday, although the home Tigers put up a good battle in the first half.
While the Grizzlies never trailed after breaking a 6-6 tie, each time it looked like they had a chance to pull away the Tigers responded. Cherry twice whittled ten-point deficits down to five, but two free throws and a three-pointer by Davis Kleppe on consecutive possessions boosted North Woods to a 41-30 halftime edge.
Coming out for the second half, quick baskets by Goggleye and Brenden Chiabotti ignited a crushing 21-4 run that squashed any hope the Tigers had for a comeback, trailing now 62-34. The Grizzlies were back on track, relentless on offense and defense as they closed out a 94-56 win.
“The kids showed maturity and poise coming off Saturday’s loss and didn’t pout or get frustrated when we took the floor on Tuesday,” Kleppe said. “I thought the energy and overall atmosphere was much more positive than on Saturday night and it showed in how we played together. A lot of good defensive rebounds allowed us to push the ball and get some transition baskets that we rely on as a part of our game. Our defense created 26 turnovers which is going to give teams trouble. Cherry has some talented young players but we didn’t give them any easy looks at the basket.”
T.J. Chiabotti took the scoring honors by pouring in 32 points, including four treys. Jared Chiabotti dropped in 17 and Goggleye finished with 14.
The Grizzlies were scheduled to hit the home hardwoods again on Friday, hosting Eveleth-Gilbert.