For Jacob Blong, Thursday night almost made up for all last year.
The Brainerd Warriors’ senior center suffered through injury and sickness to miss most of his junior season. If Thursday is any indication, Blong will have a successful senior campaign.
Blong led the Warriors with 18 points, five coming in the overtime frame, to help the Warriors to a 62-56 season-opening victory over Section 8-4A opponent Buffalo at Brainerd High School. Blong scored the first three points of the extra frame to give Brainerd the momentum.
“I just stepped up I guess,” said Blong. “We knew they were a big team — bigger than us probably. We knew that we weren’t going to dribble that much so we held out on them and stopped their penetration and won the game.”
After Blong’s eruption, Marcus Comstock and Jack Sauer scored eight consecutive points to put the game out of reach. Comstock spent most of the game getting pushed to the floor, but still managed 13 points. Sauer tallied 14 points and Ian Haug scored 13 for the Warriors.
“Marcus has a banged up knee and Jacob’s shin is bothering him so we’ll ice them down and really take it easy in practice Friday, but those two were warriors tonight,” said Brainerd head coach Scott Stanfield.
“We had to defensive rebound and I think we did a really good of that late and into the overtime. They only got one look. We boarded it and then they had to foul us and you know what, that probably was the game. Rebounding was a key.”
A Haug 3-pointer at 2:37 was key during regulation as it tied the game 47-47. He then tied it again with 1:48 left with a free throw to send the game into overtime. Brainerd held a 26-20 halftime lead, but shot just 50 percent from the line and was forced into nine turnovers. That helped Buffalo tie the score with 10:57 in the second half. The Bison then built a 45-42 lead and maintained it until Haug’s 3.
“They’re a really well-coached team and I love playing against Buffalo,” said Stanfield. “This is a good measuring stick this early. We were a little revved up to begin with and I don’t know if we ever really settled down, but that was the style of game it was.
“It’s just fun coaching against them. I think (Buffalo head coach Nick Guida) is one of the best coaches in the state. He’s proven that over the years.”
The Warriors went to the free throw line 17 times in the first half and made 11. Blong scored 10 of his points in the opening frame and Sauer tallied eight for Brainerd’s six-point halftime edge.
“It was great for the team, it was fun getting out there finally again, but we all played really hard out there and we ended up winning it at the end,” said Blong. “They’re a really good team and we knew it was going to be a challenge the whole time. Beating these guys is going to be a great momentum builder going forward.”
Brainerd’s defense held Buffalo to 31-percent shooting in the opening frame and the Bison reached the free throw line just twice. Brainerd’s defense was the key, said Stanfield. It held Buffalo, which had already played two games, to 34 percent shooting from the field and 4-of-19 from 3-point.
“Shooting is not going to be there every night and when it isn’t you have to find something else that you can get a win on and tonight it was our rebounding and defensive effort,” Stanfield said. “It was just fantastic. Our kids hustled and never gave up.
“When we got into overtime I felt really comfortable that we were going to take it.”
Buffalo 20 28 8 — 56
Brainerd 26 22 14 — 62
Jackson Schepp 9, Jason Senger 3, Austin Youngs 5, Sam Ortmann 5, Ethan Freer 17, Levi Bean 4, Collin Olmscheid 11, Zach Dahl 2. FG 22-64 (34 percent), FT 10-12 (83 percent). 3-point 4-19 (21 percent).
Jack Sauer 14, Taylor Huber 2, Jacob Blong 18, Marcus Comstock 13, Ian Haug 13, Chris Bowman 2. FG 15-44 (percent), FT 27-42 (62 percent). 3-point 5-18 (28 percent).