Small Schools boys basketball playoff preview
Raised in a family where basketball begins at an early age, Barnum’s Brandon Newman has learned how to perform his best when the calendar turns to March.
Newman’s game-best 26 points and teammate Zac Carlson’s 22 helped march the Bombers by Eveleth-Gilbert 64-54 in a Section 7AA boys basketball semifinal Tuesday night at Romano Gymnasium in Duluth, and ultimately, to the 7AA final against rival Esko at Romano at 7 p.m. tonight (Thursday, March 6).
Newman, who grew up playing constant basketball games between farm chores with elder siblings Katrina, Jessica and Justin, is a machine come March. The six-foot junior sharpshooter has been a part of three straight section championship games with Barnum (this season at 7AA, following two years in Section 5A).
“The section final is always the goal,” said Newman, who also had a game-leading 29 points in the Bombers’ 61-57 exciting comeback win over Moose Lake-Willow River in Saturday’s quarterfinals. “We’re always thinking about this game.”
In Tuesday’s game, second-seeded Barnum (26-2) bettered the Golden Bears, but Saturday’s game against the third-seed Rebels — which they led 30-29 at halftime — was the scariest, despite two earlier-year defeats.
As ML-WR started to cool after shooting efficiently in the first half, Newman and teammates took a lead and won (as usual).
“Our kids never panic, they grind it out,” said Newman’s father and Bombers Coach, Rich Newman. “They just keep working hard so we can continue to come to practice the next day.”
The Bombers are now winners of seven straight games.
Thursday’s all-Polar League final should be a spectacular game, with the Class AA top-ranked Eskomos (25-3) — 74-37 semifinal winners over Proctor Tuesday — seeking to defend their section title from last year behind superstar senior scorers Kory Deadrick, Casey Staniger and Marc Peterson.
Both Deadrick — the school’s all-time career scoring leader — and Staniger had 17 points each in Tuesday’s 12th win in a row. Coach Mike Devney is convinced his team is playing well, but knows they can’t let their guard down facing a Barnum team which lost 46-33 at Esko Dec. 6 before a 63-day win streak.
“And that game was a lot closer than the score indicated,” Devney said. “You have to commend them for jumping up to two-A and making the region final. We haven’t played our best basketball yet, but we’ll need to if we want to win Thursday.
“I think it’ll be an instant classic,” Devney continued.
ML-WR junior Brad Fossum, who had 10 points in Saturday’s elimination loss to Barnum, said he’ll likely be carpooling to the game Thursday. He admittedly picked the state’s top-rated team to win, but struggled with the odds.
“If they played 10 times, it’d probably be five and five,” Fossum said Tuesday night. “I like Esko, but you never know when Brandon Newman is going to drop the game of his life.”
It is March, of course.
On the winning course for the past 53 days, South Ridge (22-3) has strung together 15 consecutive victories, as the second-seeded Panthers played top-seed and Class A’s No. 7 Ely in a Section 7A semifinal at the Hibbing Memorial Arena Wednesday as this edition of the Pine Journal went to press.
South Ridge, which saw senior Kody Karppinen eclipse 1,000 career points in Saturday’s 55-44 comeback win over Floodwood, is looking to advance to State, along with this past fall’s football and cross country teams.
“Hopefully two more games and basketball can be added to that list,” Panthers Coach Carl Grussendorf said this week.
South Ridge senior Spencer Otis’ father, Earl, coached top-seed Fond du Lac Ojibwe (22-3) in Wednesday’s first semifinal with Bigfork, as the state’s top-scoring Ogichidaa — 91.3 points per game average — are seeking their tribal school’s first-ever final in any sport Friday at 7 p.m. in Hibbing.
Paced by Jordan Diver, Trevontae Brown and Davonte Williamson, a FDL win with a South Ridge victory would mean an ultra-rare father-versus-son matchup for the Otis family on Friday.
“It’s a little more stress for my wife,” Earl said of spouse Cissy. “She’ll be switching outfits between games [Wednesday].”