Ogichidaag overpower Bulldogs
Within the last pair of boys basketball seasons, Fond du Lac Ojibwe Athletic Director and coach Earl Otis helped raise three state tournament banners in the school gymnasium.
The large blue and gold sheets of cloth listing names, numbers and dates hang above the main entrance of the gym. They represent memories, pride and, most of all, what the tiny tribal program has accomplished.
Having the trio of keepsakes displayed atop the wall has done nothing but motivate the current Ogichidaag to get another.
With another win Tuesday night, FDL inched its way closer to another banner-raising year when they clubbed visiting Carlton 104-79 in a high-scoring contest in Cloquet.
For FDL, the 25-point victory brought their season record to 9-9, but calling the Ogichidaag average is anything but true right now. The two-time defending Section 7A champions have won their past four games, scoring 80 or more points in all of them and coming in above the century mark twice.
Tuesday, FDL propelled an early 13-8 lead into 38-17 in a blink of an eye. By halftime, their advantage was 44-28.
The Bulldogs, now 7-12, didn’t go away however, closing the gap to 52-46 on an early second-half spurt, but Carlton simply couldn’t keep pace with the well-rounded hosts.
“We’ve been playing really good ball as of late — good team ball,” said Otis, whose Ogichidaag were guided by 6-foot-7 senior Justin Brown’s game-high 35 points. “That’s our game plan. Throw it inside and then work our way out.”
That recipe surely worked Tuesday, as Brown was dominant. Although the only true big man in 7A, Brown has a soft touch as a right-handed shooter. He’s got quick feet and even dunked the ball Tuesday. Otis knows his center is vital for success, but he doesn’t overlook any of his athletes.
Senior Lester Williamson — the only player on the team to have participated during both state tournament trips — added 21 points Tuesday and, like Brown, a one-handed slam. Freshmen River Heitala and Evan Butcher also scored 18 and 16 points, while senior Nakyle Misquadace had 10.
“I like our chances,” said Otis of another postseason push in March. “I would love to put another [banner] up.”
In Carlton, meanwhile, first-year coach Jeswa Harris loves his new job with the Bulldogs. A confident leader, Harris watched junior Tyler Ojibway score 23 points, while sophomore Jackson Mickle added 12, junior Eric Soderstrom 11 and sophomore Matt Hey 10 points.
Still, with Soderstrom and fellow junior Sam Macor the tallest players on the Carlton roster at 6-foot-3, the Bulldogs could not contend inside. Harris, who stands 6-5 himself, saw his team get tired later on, but never faulted their efforts.
“We just ran into a little too much height and little too much speed, but I love the effort of my guys,” Harris said.
He came away with plenty of respect for the Ogichidaag, too.
“From what I saw tonight, that Fond du Lac team is a scary team,” said Harris, watching them for his first time.
Cloquet freshman Uriah Aubid, who had four points Tuesday, is in his first season at FDL and said it’s “terrific.” He noted their team is happy, confident and optimistic.
“Our younger guys talk about getting a banner in the future,” added Williamson. “But why can’t we get it now?”
ONE DUNK, TWO DUNK, THREE
With his one-handed slam again Tuesday, Williamson now has dunked the basketball in his previous three games. The high-riser estimated he has almost 10 slams so far this winter. However, scoring two points off of a rim-rattling jam doesn’t add up to as much as another state run would.
“I’d rather have the team succeed,” Williamson said. “If I just dunk, we celebrate for a couple seconds and that’s it. But if we all succeed, we may get another banner. And that’s something that would last in the gym forever.”