AITKIN -- With funny car speed and an endless supply of fuel the Pequot Lakes Patriots boys' basketball team revved into the championship of the Aitkin Quarterbacks Holiday Tournament.
Senior Jesse Nelson's 23 points ignited the way for Pequot which held off the pesky Cass Lake-Bena Panthers Monday for a 75-70 opening-round victory.
Nelson scored 20 of his game-high 23 in the first half as the Patriots never trailed after the first quarter. While Nelson was the ignition to Pequot's fastbreak game, James Baumann was the cruise control.
"We have 10 seniors on this team and we've been playing together since fifth grade and we always ran up and down the court," said Baumann. "Our first coach, fast break was all he stressed and that's what we've always done. We press and then hit the fast break. That's what we did this game pretty much."
The senior point guard scored 13 points, but continually broke any Panthers press while containing 6-foot-5 Byron Ninham, CL-B's best offensive threat, despite giving up seven inches in height.
"We played him three times in summer league and that kid can score," said Baumann. "Mainly whenever he got the ball my teammates and I would just surround him. That's why he couldn't really score. Obviously he had the height advantage on me, but we were doing a lot of switching on him."
With a 43-38 halftime lead, Pequot maintained its intensity and up-tempo game in the second half.
Chris Clasen spread his 18 points out in all four quarters but led the Patriots with four in the third quarter to maintain a five-point lead.
In the fourth quarter, Mike Wiebolt was the nitrous oxide. The senior scored all six of his points in the final frame to keep Pequot rolling onto victory.
"That up-tempo style has to the be the character of this team because we're too small," said Pequot coach Garry Grewe. "We're not big enough, but we play well together and move the basketball. If we can get the tempo going in the manner that we want we're fine.
"The thing, and this will sound weird, that I was pleased with was our defense. We gave up 70 points, but we still played pretty good defense in an up-tempo game."
Pequot couldn't shake the Panthers. After falling 22-16 in the initial quarter, CL-B outscored Pequot by one point the last three quarters.
"They kept hanging around," said Grewe. "They're well coached. Dan Ninham (CL-B's coach) is a great coach. Every time we would get close to a 10-point lead we could never get it over double digits."
Anthony Robinson led the Panthers with 22 points, while Ninham scored 14.
"They were hitting their shots when they were open," said Baumann. "They found the open spots on our defense and they hit their shots. We did give up easy points under the hoop."
Pequot Lakes 22 21 15 17 -- 75
Cass Lake-Bena 16 22 15 17 -- 70
James Baumann 13, Chris Clasen 18, Jesse Nelson 23, Mike Wiebolt 6, Dan Swenson 11, Josh Dale 3, Chris Liedl 1. Team totals: FG 29-69 (42 percent), FT 13-24 (54 percent), 3-point baskets: 4-10 (Nelson 3, Swenson 1). Overall -- 3-1. Next game: vs. Pillager at Aitkin tournament 7:45 p.m. today.
Byron Ninham 14, Cory Littlewolf 10, Tyler Wittner 5, Anthony Robinson 22, David Butler 8, Aaron Morris 6, Kevin Muller 5. Team totals: FG 28-69 (41 percent), FT 5-10 (50 percent), 3-point baskets: 9-18 (Robinson 4, Littlewolf 2, Morris 2, Muller 1). Next game: vs. Aitkin 6 p.m. today.
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