DULUTH -- In the last three years there has only been one thing keeping the Pine River-Backus Tigers boys' basketball team from advancing to the state tournament.
They faced their nemesis Saturday night and beat it as the Tigers came back from a nine-point deficit to defeat the Crosby-Ironton Rangers 51-43 in the quarterfinals of the Section 7AA tournament on the campus of the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
For the last three years the Rangers have knocked off Pine River-Backus in the section finals. In the early going Saturday it looked like it was going to happen again.
C-I's defense forced eight first-half turnovers, which led to a barrage of points for the Rangers who were on fire for the first half.
The Rangers shot 6-12 from the field in the first quarter to build an early 14-9 lead. In the second quarter it was junior Gideon Avelsgard's time to put on a shooting clinic as he scored nine of his 18 points to lead the Rangers into the half with a 32-23 lead.
Turnovers hampered the Tigers as they shot the ball well, but were limited on the opportunities. PR-B was 7-13 in the first half and 8-9 from the line.
"If I knew what the problem was in the first half I could make a million dollars writing a book," said Tigers head coach Bob Nelson. "We've just been starting slow. I don't know what it is. The further we go here in this tournament we won't be able to do that. If we do that for very long we're just going to get killed."
Down by nine and the haunted by memories of the last few years Nelson gathered the Tigers and made the adjustments he needed. Then PR-B went on a defensive rampage, holding the Rangers to just 11 second-half points.
"We just didn't have enough intensity," said the Tigers' Joe Bueckers. "We needed to come out in the second half with some intensity. We knew we could change the game.
"We had to put more pressure on them when they were bringing the ball up the floor and we had to get out on their shooters more and just get a hand in the face. They were getting too many wide open shots."
The Tigers forced the Rangers into eight turnovers and limited them to 2-5 shooting in the third quarter.
"They were shooting so well in the first half," said PR-B junior Micah Johnson. "I knew they couldn't keep it up for that long. We just weren't getting out on the three-point line. In the second half we came out and got in the passing lanes and just kind of took that three away from them.
"We stopped fronting their big guys to concentrate more on their three-point shooting because they weren't scoring inside very much."
Offensively, the Tigers got a balanced scoring attack from their three perimeter players -- Bueckers, Adam Nelson and Johnson. Nelson finished with 13 points, Bueckers had 12 and Johnson 11.
At the start of the fourth quarter the teams were tied 38-38, but the Tigers pounced on the momentum and watched as C-I fell farther behind with each foul.
"In the third quarter we had difficulty getting in the offense and good teams capitalize on that," said Rangers head coach Dave Galovich. "They certainly did that. We didn't have many shots and the other thing that hurt us is we didn't get to the free throw line."
Free throws were what won the game as PR-B had 20 attempts, knocking down 18, while C-I only had two attempts.
PR-B now plays Proctor in a Section 7AA semifinal game at Duluth 6 p.m. Tuesday.
Crosby-Ironton 14 18 6 5 -- 43
Pine River-Backus 9 14 15 13 -- 51
James Freese 8, Gideon Avelsgard 18, Troy Caddy 5, Tom Mount 7, Earl Villebrun 5. Team totals: FG 17-41 (percent), FT 1-2 (50 percent). Final record -- 10-14.
PINE RIVER-BACKUS (51)
Joe Bueckers 12, Adam Nelson 13, Micah Johnson 11, Ross Kleiner 3, Justin Kelley 4, Corey Anderson 4, Nick Flier 4. Team totals: FG 15-28 (percent), FT 18-20 (percent). Overall -- 21-3. Next game: vs. Proctor in the Section 7AA semifinals at Minnesota-Duluth at 6 p.m. Tuesday.
3-point baskets -- PRB-4 (Johnson, Nelson); CI-8 (Avelsgard 6, Caddy, Villebrun). Total fouls -- PRB 6, CI 21.
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