BY AARON PATTERSON
There is always some sort of adversity a team might face within a game, and the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils are no stranger to fighting through their struggles. Whether foul trouble or turnovers, or simply an off night shooting, the Blue Devils have always found a way to turn an occasional setback into an opportunity.
But with the recent resignation of head coach Deon Mennenga on Saturday, for personal reasons, the Blue Devils have a whole new hurdle to overcome. Eleven games into the season, Bismarck-Henning was beginning to get on a roll winning four straight after a loss on November 30 to Monticello. Facing a transition between coaches, for some teams, might be enough of a disruption to send a squad into a tailspin.
There were no setbacks, however, when the BSN Boys Basketball Classic began on Thursday in Bismarck. With interim head coach Jon Clapp in charge, the Blue Devils didn’t miss a beat, and extended their winning streak to six games with a 61-49 win over Oakwood, followed by a 64-43 victory in the nightcap against Grant Park.
“We’re still the same basketball team, play the same game with the same people,” Bismarck-Henning junior Andy Bott said. “It’s not that different. Coach Clapp is a great coach. We just play.”
And part of the reason for the smooth transition has been the continuation of Mennenga’s system which helped lead the Blue Devils to a 25-2 record last season, and a perfect 13-0 conference record en route to the Vermilion Valley Conference title.
“Deon set a great system for us,” Bott said. “On defense, we just started running it. It’s a great zone. We ran it a lot last year and it worked with Tanner (Ribbe), Krystian (Ingram), and Stephen Krout. It worked really well with them, so we’re just doing that again.
“We’re all used to it. Instead of starting something new, we’re just going back to that. It’s really starting to work for us.”
In Thursday’s win over Grant Park, Bismarck-Henning trailed for only 46 seconds before taking its final lead at 6-5 just under three minutes into the contest. By halftime, the Blue Devils had built an impressive 35-16 lead, largely right the backs of Bott and senior guard Austin Toler. The duo scored 25 of the team’s first half points with Bott accounting for 11 in the second quarter. Bott and Toler finished with 17 and 20 points respectively, and each hit three three-pointers.
“Andy was on from outside,” Clapp said. “I think our height inside was a nice advantage for us. We were able to work the ball inside out and get wide-open shots at the top. I thought we worked real well against the zone. We didn’t stand against it, we had guys cutting and moving against it, and moving the ball around. We were pretty hot in the first half and just had good shooting on wide-open shots.”
Bott was surprised about the number of wide-open shots Grant Park gave up, but recognized much of the spacing was a result of the inside threat of 6-foot-7 Wilde Garowski who finished with 10 points and six rebounds. Five of his rebounds came on the offensive glass.
The Blue Devils are now 2-0 in the tournament and will face Watseka today at 1 p.m. which is also 2-0.
After dropping the earlier contest to Bismarck-Henning, Oakwood put up a fight against Watseka in the evening session, but ultimately fell 55-50.
Watseka also defeated Schlarman Academy 43-39, but Schlarman was able to bounce back and defeat Clifton Central 50-47.
Schlarman will begin today’s action with a 10 a.m. contest against Grant Park, which will be followed by Oakwood taking on Clifton Central at 11:30.
Oakwood will then face Schlarman Academy at 5 p.m.