The Brainerd Warriors had to do something to neutralize the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles' athleticism and height.
Brainerd rotated nine players and played a scrambling, aggressive style on defense, committing 32 fouls in the process.
But the strategy worked as Brainerd scored a 75-69 Central Lakes Conference victory Friday.
"Our plan was to come in, play a lot of guys and make it an up and down game," Warriors coach Matt Urbanek said. "We put a lot of ball pressure on them and had to get out and run because we knew we would have trouble defending them in the halfcourt. They're too big for us in the halfcourt so we had to make it an open-court game.
"For that to happen, we had to come out with a lot of energy. There's no other way to play that style of basketball, and our guys did. I give them all the credit in the world. Our players came out with a tremendous amount of energy, a tremendous amount of intensity, and played unselfishly. I felt like the energy on our team was as good as I've seen in a long, long time."
Warriors 75, Apollo 69
The key: Brainerd made 24 of 33 free throws while Apollo made 20 of 41
Conference: SCA 1-3, Brd 3-1
Overall: SCA 4-5, Brd 4-1
Next: Brainerd at Bemidji 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
The victory raised Brainerd's overall record to 4-1 while the Eagles slipped to 4-5.
"We're pretty good right now," Warriors guard Kyle Crocker said. "We've got a lot of momentum going and we're really high off this win right now."
The Warriors led by as much as 30-13 in the first but their shots suddenly stopped falling as Apollo switched to a zone. Apollo battled back to outscore the Warriors 23-7 until intermission, but still trailed 37-36 at the half.
In the first 18 minutes the Warriors had 19 fouls. Ben Gervais had four fouls and four Warriors each had three.
Brainerd didn't regain control until 7:19 remained as Kyle Schaible made three free throws and Crocker one for a 64-58 edge. The Eagles got within four twice down the stretch before Brainerd scored seven of its final nine points at the foul line, three by Jed Magstadt when a personal foul was followed by a technical with 1:45 left.
"They're a pretty good team, with a lot of expectations," Crocker said. "We just played hard and scored more."
Crocker scored 17 points, Magstadt added 14.
The Warriors received 33 points from their bench. Jon Wiese scored 10 of his 14 in the first half. Aaron Pavek scored 10 of his 12 in the second, Gervais notched six and T.J. Struss had one.
The Warriors needed those contributions as four starters fouled out. Fortunately for Brainerd, the Eagles made only 20 of 41 free throws while the Warriors sank 24 of 33.
"We had to have players come in and make big contributions and they did," Urbanek said. "We had a lot of guys, who not only played, but played big minutes and made significant contributions off the bench.
"Sometimes it's an overused clich that it's a team win, but this is absolutely the definition of a team win. We were well-balanced, we had guys who played well in a lot of facets of the game. We had some guys who made big plays in crunch time when it mattered. A lot of those guys haven't really seen many significant varsity minutes. They were kind of thrown into the fire and responded well."
Reserve Andre Garth led Apollo with 21 points, starter Tim Bergstraser added 15 and reserve Ahmed Farah 13.
St. Cloud Apollo 36 33 - 69
Brainerd 37 38 - 75
Mike Frericks 2, Greg Wimberly 5, Kendall Smith 15, Tim Bergstraser 9, Jon Carr 4, Andre Garth 21, Ahmed Farah 13. FG 24-60, FT 11-26. Three-point baskets: Wimberly. Turnovers: 23.
Jed Magstadt 14, Kyle Crocker 17, Mike Valesano 2, Kyle Schaible 7, Sam Feyder 2, Ben Gervais 6, Jon Wiese 14, Aaron Pavek 12, T.J. Struss 1. FG 22-50, FT 24-33. Three-point baskets: 7 (Crocker 4, Gervais 2, Wiese). Turnovers: 24.
MIKE BIALKA can be reached at email@example.com and at 855-5861.
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