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Ogichidaag fall in section semi-final

Fond du Lac High School's Justin Brown shoots a jumper during the Section 7A semi-final vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl in Hibbing. 1 / 3
Fond du Lac High School's Lester Williamson shoots a jumper over Mountain Iron-Buhl's Brody Bissonette during the Section 7A semi-final game in Hibbing. Photos by Dave Harwig/ 2 / 3
Fond du Lac High School's Avery Misquadace shoots a three-pointer over the defense of Mountain Iron-Buhl's Brody Tetrault during the Section 7A semi-final game in Hibbing. 3 / 3

It was a bad time for the Fond du Lac Ojibwe boys basketball team to come down with a case of the yips, but the Ogichidaag learned some valuable lessons Thursday at the Hibbing Memorial Building in the Section 7A semifinals.

The score wasn’t close — the Rangers, who went on to win the section championship, won 95-56 behind 40 points from Archie Winans — but the young Fond du Lac team can use the lessons learned to build.

“We came out nervous and tentative,” coach Earl Otis said. “We didn’t start well, we didn’t play particularly well, and certainly not as well as we played the first time we played them (a Fond du Lac victory in January).

Jaylon Holmes added 22 more points for the Rangers, who went on to defeat North Woods for the section title two nights later. Justin Brown scored 17 points to lead the Ogichidaa and Evan Butcher scored 12 more.

The Rangers scored 52 points in the first half to salt the game away, taking advantage of turnovers in the process.

“We turned the ball over too much and we got in foul trouble,” Otis said. “The things you can’t afford to do in a playoff game, we did. Passes were going over guys’ heads, we were making unforced turnovers, and you just can’t do that.”

Lester Williamson scored nine points in his last game for Fond du Lac, which ended its season 13-14.

But the future is bright for the team, as the young players got a real taste of life deep in the section playoffs.

“I think we were overawed, and I think that applied to the seniors to an extent too,” Otis added. “There were a lot more people there than usually see us play, and we were sort of looking at the surroundings instead of concentrating on playing our game.”

That said, the team started two freshmen this year and might field a starting lineup next season of five sophomores with freshmen coming off the bench.

“You can’t teach height and we will miss (6-foot-7) Justin Brown for sure, as we will miss all our seniors,” Otis said, “but the younger players will all have a year in our program and we’ll be able to do more things next year that we couldn’t do this year.”

Specifically, those things are to press and defend the entire floor, and to play the up-tempo style of offense Otis prefers.

“We’ll be able to run and gun next year like we have in the past,” he promised, “and we’ll be able to press as well with the players having a year in the program. We’ll be doing the things that teams without as much height wind up doing.”