After keeping it close in a low-scoring first half, Maple Grove busted out in the second half on a 25-8 run over a span of 8:30 minutes in a 60-41 Northwest Suburban Conference win at Blaine Jan. 18.
The loss was the Bengals’ sixth straight and they fell to 5-9 overall, 3-6 in the conference, as they struggled to convert inside chances thanks to Crimson standout senior post Erik Olson, who had 15 points but controlled the paint under the Bengals rim.
“[Olson] gave us trouble, blocking and altering shots,” Blaine coach Mark Arzdorf said. “We could get to the rim but we couldn’t finish the chances. We had a hard time finishing down low and inconsistency is the thing right now because we’re getting decent opportunities [to score].”
Turnovers have been a trouble area for the Bengals, but they took care of the ball better than in recent games.
According to Arzdorf, the squad was able to move on after a rough 91-52 loss to Champlin Park three night’s earlier in front of the same home fans inside the Blaine fieldhouse. “I was happy with the effort tonight after a bad game Tuesday,” Arzdorf said.
Kurt Gillund led the Bengals with 11 points and Matt Barthels had nine points coming off the bench. “[They] came off the bench and gave us some good minutes and scoring, but we just had one poor stretch in the second half which really separated us,” Arzdorf said.
The third-place Crimson improved to 7-2 in the NWSC.
Despite the less-than-stellar 5-9 record, Arzdorf said the squad remains upbeat. “It’s always tough [to motivate] when you aren’t winning but this group has been good about getting back to work the next day working and thinking big picture,” he said.
The team needs to be playing at its best at the end of the season, Arzdorf said. “The only way for us to get out of the rut is to work harder, find the weakness and fix it,” he said. “Then keep our chins up and get better each day.”
Blaine has a tough schedule, but it has the chance to return the favor as it will face each team twice by the end of the schedule.
“We’re in a tough stretch of games and it doesn’t seem to get any easier,” Arzdorf said about playing in what’s been an ultra competitive conference so far. “It seems like every night we’re going against an excellent basketball team. The only way to get to the top is to go through those top teams and the beauty of it is that we get to play everyone twice.”
The Bengals returned only two players with varsity time from last season, seniors Joe Robel and Kunle Ayinde, while seven seniors and two juniors make up the majority of the minutes.
“Joe always gives us great effort and is one of the better defenders in the conference and is really our floor leader,” Arzdorf said. “He’s had some bright spots and struggled like everyone else on the floor.”
Jason Olson is at firstname.lastname@example.org