Havre Daily News sports editor
Winning the District 9C regular-season championship has one possible disadvantage. It means the team has a first-round bye at the district tournament and doesn't play until the semifinals.
A letdown in situations like that is always a possibility. That is unless you're the North Star Knights and you're coached by a veteran like Charlie Robinson.
Just one day removed from a resounding win over the Big Sandy Pioneers, the fifth-seeded Turner Tornadoes found out how the other half lives, as they were thumped by North Star, 51-31, in the semifinals of the 2006 District 9C tournament at the Havre High gymnasium.
On Tuesday against Big Sandy, the upstart Tornadoes got 26 points from senior Dalton Cornell, all coming on easy layups. On Wednesday afternoon, North Star's mix of zone and man defense befuddled Cornell, holding him to a mere six points.
“I thought we played very well on both ends of the floor, but we did some especially good things on defense,” Robinson said. “We changed things up on them throughout the game and we really wanted to make them beat us from the perimeter. But even when we played man, we had some really good success defending them.
“I was really happy with our effort and our readiness to play,” he added. “If we play like that, I'll take a bye every year.”
Offensively, it took the Knights a little while to pull away from the Tornadoes, despite Turner's own offensive woes. North Star didn't get out of the gates very quickly, but by the end of the first period, Cody Donoven had slowly started to pick apart the Turner defense as North Star led 16-11.
In the second quarter, North Star remained patient as Donoven and Branden Melby continued to chip away at the Turner defense. North Star also benefitted from Turner's lack of offense. By the 4:34 mark of the second quarter, the Knights were in the midst of a 9-2 run that pushed their lead to 25-14.
North Star finished the half with baskets from Donoven and Darius Wendland to lead 29-16.
“I thought we executed our offense well most of the game,” Robinson said. “We had a couple of bad stretches in the first half, but overall we were very efficient like we normally are.”
Despite only trailing by 13 points at intermission, the Tornadoes' offense was a shell of its Tuesday afternoon self. It didn't take long for North Star to exploit that in the second half.
The Knights' defense continued to force Turner to shoot from the outside and the Tornadoes never got on track. The Knights held Turner to eight points in the third quarter and a mere five in the fourth period en route to the easy victory.
“We did a really good job defensively,” Melby said. “We saw what they did to Big Sandy and because we hadn't played in almost a week, we were trying to make sure the same thing didn't happen to us. We were very focused and we played really good defense.”
Said Robinson: “Our defensive effort is really what allowed us to play so well. I thought that Cody Donoven and Shane Rice did a really good job containing Chad Jones and Dalton Cornell. We forced Turner to look to other scorers.”
Offensively, the Knights shot a very efficient 48 percent from the floor and did something that most teams are not doing in the 2006 9C tournament - making free throws at the end of the game. For the game, North Star was 18-of-20 from the charity stripe.
Donoven paced the Knights with 17 points, five rebounds and five assists. Melby added a solid 16 points and Rice scored nine. The Tornadoes were led by Chad Jones' 12 points. Logan Fouts chipped in with nine.
With the loss, Turner will move into tonight's loser-out game, where they'll face Rocky Boy at 1.
“You have to give Turner a lot of credit,” Robinson said. “They played hard and they played very well against Big Sandy. It wouldn't surprise me at all of they come back through the consolation bracket.”
Meanwhile, Robinson's Knights are back in familiar territory in the 9C championship game. North Star will face Hays-Lodge Pole, with a trip to the Northern C divisional tournament on the line.
“No matter who we face in the championship, we know that it will be a tough game,” Melby said. “Hays-Lodge Pole is playing some really good basketball so we know it will be a tough game.”
Saturday night's District 9C boys championship game between North Star and Hays-Lodge Pole will tip off at 7 at the HHS gymnasium.
Knights 51, Tornadoes 31
North Star 16 13 11 11 - 51
Turner 11 5 8 7 - 31
North Star - Darius Wendland 6, Brandon Melby 16, Shane Rice 8, Cody Donoven 17. Totals: 17 18-20 51.
Turner - Colin Jones 2, Dalton Cornell 6, Chad Jones 12, Logan Fouts 9, Wade Hofer 2. Totals: 13 4-11 31.
3-pointers - North Star 2 (Donoven 1, Melby 1), Turner 1 (Fouts); Total fouls - North Star 14, Turner 16; Fouled out - Cornell.