BY AARON PATTERSON
At some point toward the end of this basketball season, the Bismarck-Henning Blue Devils are going to look back in search of a defining moment. Perhaps not a season-changing moment, but one in which they learned a lesson that carries them through tough times.
Facing a Tolono Unity Rockets team on Tuesday filled with tradition — and this season with depth and size — the Blue Devils found a way to fight through adversity that might have seen a lesser team falter.
With less than three minutes to play in the third quarter, senior guard Austin Toler and 6-foot-7 junior Wilde Garowski were forced to spend time on the bench, each with four fouls. To that point, the two were the Blue Devils’ leading scorers, and with Toler being the team’s primary ball handler and Garowski holding a distinct size advantage under the basket, the break could have spelled disaster.
Bismarck-Henning led 32-28 at the time, and instead of surrendering the lead and any momentum, went on to outscore Unity 21-13 in the final 10 minutes, 50 seconds, and left Wilcox Gym with an impressive 53-41 win.
“It is a good win,” Bismarck-Henning coach Deon Mennenga said. “Anytime you can put down at seeding time or at County seeding time Unity and a ‘W’ next to it, it’s good. We’re going to take it.”
Losing Garowski could have especially meant trouble as he controlled the offensive glass where he accounted for 10 of his 13 rebounds. Both he and Toler were able to finish the game, and the Blue Devils fought through the adversity in impressive fashion.
The Blue Devils never trailed and maintained a six-point advantage for much of the contest before finishing the game on a 12-3 run in the final 3:14.
The run was started on a pair of free throws by Toler, who scored a team high 15 points and made six of his seven free throw attempts. Austin Reinken scored nine with seven coming at the line.
But much credit is deserved by the Blue Devils’ defense and its ability to force the Rockets into committing 17 total turnovers including seven in the first quarter. Bismarck-Henning’s Chase Connelly (nine points, five rebounds) swiped seven of his team’s 10 steals in the effort.
Much of the defensive pressure during the final stretch was focused on Unity sophomore forward Josh Larson who scored a game high 18 points. After scoring half of his team’s points through three quarters, and attempting 10 of the Rockets’ 26 shot attempts, Larson was held to only two attempts in the final eight minutes and scored only two points which came on a pair of free throws eight seconds into the fourth quarter.
“We had to make sure that No. 33 (didn’t get easy shots),” Toler said. “We just tried to cover him as much as we could because he was the only one that was scoring. We just tried to keep our hands up and make sure that nobody had any easy shots.”
No other Unity player reach double figures in scoring as Austin Dillavou and Mitch Negangard each finishd with five points, Justin Deters had four, and three other Rockets finished with three.
The Blue Devils are next scheduled to host Milford on Friday before beginning tournament play in the Hayden’s Classic on December 27.