Eskomos fine-tune defense, come back to beat LumberjacksThe Eskomos fine-tuned their defensive scheme at halftime and eventually eased past the neighboring Lumberjacks 65-50 before a crowded gymnasium Tuesday night at Esko High School.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
ESKO – For the most part, sinking a near 25-foot shot to beat the buzzer before halftime of a boys basketball game would likely be the topic of conversation entering the locker room.
But trailing Cloquet by two points at the time, Esko’s players had other things on their mind.
Rather than praising their offensive efforts, the Eskomos fine-tuned their defensive scheme and eventually eased past the neighboring Lumberjacks 65-50 before a crowded gymnasium Tuesday night at Esko High School.
“We didn’t even talk about the shot, I don’t think anyone [in the locker room] did,” said Esko Coach Mike Devney of sophomore Marc Peterson’s lengthy triple to bring the score to 34-32. “We talked about the adjustments we needed to make to win.”
In other words, defense.
Knowing they needed to slow down the Lumberjacks’ 6-foot-6 center, Adam Laine, after he scored 18 points in the first 18 minutes, Devney directed his Eskomos to alter their position from in front of Laine to behind him in the second half.
With modifications in place, Laine managed to score just a single point in the final frame, as the sophomore big man was held without a single field goal. Throughout that time, Esko took off on a key 16-0 run, taking a 45-43 lead at the 11-minute mark.
They never looked back.
“I have to give Devney and his staff credit,” Cloquet Coach Steve Battaglia said. “Without question, we’re an interior-orientated team and [Esko] made the proper adjustments.”
“We’re proud of the efforts our kids gave in the second half tonight,” said Devney, in his 18th season coaching and 13th at Esko. “Cloquet has a lot of big, strong kids, but we really defended. We needed a good, tight game, and we got one tonight.”
Typically, games between the pair of cross-county foes are tight. Before Tuesday, Cloquet had won the past three backyard brawls, while Esko had a string before that. Despite the scoreboard’s tally, the gym was packed, student sections loud and players respectful afterward.
Esko’s Peterson said it’s a good rivalry.
“Every time,” said the 6-foot-3 guard, who finished with 18 points, including a game-high trio of trifectas Tuesday night. “We know each other by name.”
“They took it to us last year,” Esko senior Jackson Lindquist added about Cloquet’s upset win in Cloquet in 2011. “These games are fun. It’s a good time. The crowd gets into it even.”
Lindquist said it was the first time he had beaten Cloquet in his four-year career with the Eskomos. The 6-foot-2, 1,000-plus-point scorer piled up a game-leading 24 points, as the guard slashed the lane and hit shots from the perimeter all evening.
“He’s a heck of a player and took over,” Devney said of Lindquist. “He loves to defend and really stepped up for us tonight.”
Although Lindquist said he and his team got going offensively, the lanky backcourt ball-handler said his team’s second-half defense was essential to their bragging-rights victory.
“Both aspects carried us, but I think our defense is what got us this win,” he said. “It was a good [second] half of basketball. Everything just seemed to be clicking.”
Once Laine was neutralized, Cloquet crumbled. Going scoreless for an eight-minute spurt, the Lumberjacks made just seven field goals and scored a mere 16 points following halftime. For the game, they racked up 21 total turnovers compared to Esko’s seven.
“We turned the ball over and they didn’t, simple as that,” Battaglia said. “We had 21 turnovers, Esko had seven. There’s your ball game, right there.”
From those 21 giveaways for Cloquet, Esko scored 26 points, while the Lumberjacks converted just one bucket against the Eskomos (17-4).
With the Esko defeat, Cloquet (7-14) has now dropped four straight, including losses to Virginia, Duluth Denfeld and North Branch in less than two weeks.
“Like I told our guys tonight, we’ve been on the bad end on many nights, but I’ve never been a part of a team that has so many 10- to 12-point losses,” Battaglia said. “My kids are playing hard, and we’ve definitely had plenty of chances throughout this season.”
Laine led Cloquet with 19 points, while senior Trent Moe added 14 in defeat.
“I think we can knock off anyone on any given night,” Battaglia continued. “Honestly, I liked the way our defense played tonight; we just got a little discombobulated.”
That goes back to Esko’s halftime adjustments.
“We adjusted some things at halftime and knew we had to prevent some things from happening like they did in the first half,” Peterson added. “That’s what happens. The second half just worked out for us tonight.”
Along with breaking their three-year losing stretch to Cloquet, Esko marked its third consecutive win, the ninth in their last 10 games. The high-octane Eskomos can shoot with anyone and they are excited for March Madness.
“It’s tourney time soon,” Peterson said. “You always want to be playing your best then. Tonight, though, is always a good rivalry. We wanted this one.”
Both Peterson and Lindquist played all 36 minutes Tuesday. Aiding their scoring efforts was sophomore sharp-shooter Kory Deadrick, who finished with 10 points in the comeback.
“It’s exciting to get a comeback win, but come tournament time, we have to play at our best the entire game,” Devney said. “We’ve had some good halves, but down the stretch, I’m looking for us to put together a full 36 minutes.”
Maybe then they’ll remember Peterson’s halftime buzzer-beater.