DEER RIVER- The North Woods boys basketball season came to an end last week with a disappointing 89-83 Section 7A semifinal loss at Deer River, squandering a spirited rally that saw the Grizzlies …
DEER RIVER- The North Woods boys basketball season came to an end last week with a disappointing 89-83 Section 7A semifinal loss at Deer River, squandering a spirited rally that saw the Grizzlies turn a 15-point first-half deficit into a tenuous lead throughout most of the second half.
The Grizzlies’ offense sputtered early, scoring just five points in the first six minutes against a smothering Warriors man-to-man defense. North Woods defenders had trouble dealing with high screens that freed Deer River shooters for open jumpers and drives to the bucket, allowing the Warriors to build a 27-12 lead with nine minutes left in the half.
“You can tell a lot about a game from warm-ups, and Deer River was real loose,” Grizzlies Head Coach Will Kleppe said. “I could tell they were feeling confident. They came out very aggressive with the basketball to start the game. It took us a little bit to get our feet on defense to make some adjustments.”
Yet only four minutes later, the Grizzlies held a 31-30 lead. Sean Morrison initiated the startling comeback with a putback two-pointer, and then it started raining Chiabotti treys, with three-pointers coming on successive possessions from Jared, T.J. and Brendan ChiabottI, cutting the lead to 30-23. Then Brendan Chiabotti brought the team all the way back, nailing a trey, getting a steal and fast break bucket, and converting a bucket-and-one after being fouled on another fast break score. The eight-point blitz gave the Grizzlies their first lead of the game.
“It was kind of one of our typical runs, where it wasn’t our shooting that spurred it, it was just making some defensive plays, a couple steals here and there,” Kleppe said. “You make a couple defensive plays and they translate into some threes, and before we knew it we’re right back in the game.”
Deer River regained the lead, but Davis Kleppe connected on a three-pointer with 34 seconds left to knot the score 42-42, and an Alex Hartway steal and score put North Woods on top at the half 44-42.
The Grizzlies came out in the second half and stretched the lead to as many as seven points, and held a slim 67-65 advantage halfway through the final stanza.
“We came out just carrying over some of those things that we had done before halftime,” Kleppe said. “The defensive energy was really high, the offensive energy was high. It was just a matter of how much gas we were going to have left in the tank.”
Deer River tied the game 73-73 with 5:40 remaining, and that’s when the tank went dry. Coming out of a time out, the Grizzlies had turnovers on consecutive possessions that the Warriors turned into four points and a 77-73 lead. A Brendan Chiabotti trey pulled the Grizzlies within one, but then the Warriors reeled off a 9-0 run with seven of those points coming at the free-throw line, and Deer River coasted from there to the 89-83 win.
“They’re a very good ballclub with a lot of weapons and they really showed that,” Kleppe said. “We were battling the future section champs. I just commend my guys. We played right to the buzzer and we left it all out there. That’s a credit to them.”
Deer River handily beat No. 1 seed Nashwauk-Keewatin in the section final on Friday, 60-42, to advance to the state tournament.
Four Grizzlies scored in double figures, with T.J. Chiabotti’s 21 points barely edging out Brenden Chiabotti’s 20 points for top honors. Jared Chiabotti scored 15 and Alex Hartway had 11.
Creating scoring opportunities off turnovers has been a signature stat in North Woods victories, but in this game the Warriors turned the tables on them, forcing the Grizzlies into 24 turnovers that Deer River converted into 35 points. Intent on forcing the ball into the paint, the Warriors ended up with a big advantage at the foul stripe where they outscored the Grizzlies 19-5.
North Woods ended the season with a record of 14-6.
“We were able to stay on the floor all year, we followed all the precautions and did what we needed to do,” said Kleppe, giving a nod to the cloud of coronavirus that hung over the season. “We graduated Trevor Morrison last year, our leading rebounder and leading scorer, and those were some big shoes to fill. All things considered, it was a great year. We wound up as the No. 3 seed behind two very good teams that, when you look at their size and athleticism, I don’t think that should have been a shocker to anybody. We played them both tough and came up short. But in a lot of other aspects, we met or exceeded our expectations for this crew.”