The scoreboard seemed to have some fluctuation left in it, so Greg Garmen was happy.
It’d be hard not to be, not after his Pirates played unbeaten East Grand Forks almost dead-even for a full half of basketball, that shine only slightly dulled by an 8-0 Green Wave run in the final minute.
But as Garmen recounted how Crookston got to that point — down 10 points with plenty of time to make that deficit up — his words hinted that while he was pleased, he didn’t entirely like where things were going.
“I thought we were sort of helter-skelter, we were just doing whatever (on offense),” the Pirates’ head coach said. “It actually went well for us … (but) we weren’t really running any of our stuff other than sort of freelancing.”
In other words: exactly what East Grand Forks wanted Crookston to do. And exactly the opposite of the Pirates’ gameplan.
The Green Wave are 7-0 and average 79 points per game, in very large part because they have the talent and athleticism required to play helter-skelter. The Pirates … don’t, at least not for 36 minutes against a team like East Grand Forks.
For 17? Fine. Freelance away. But over the game’s last 19 minutes, something predictable happened: the Green Wave outscored Crookston 66-32 on their way to a 107-71 laugher, running the Pirates out of their own gym.
In the end, Crookston and East Grand Forks wrote a familiar script. The Green Wave hung triple digits on the Pirates twice last season, and returned all their significant contributors this season. To avoid that outcome, Crookston came in knowing it couldn’t play East Grand Forks’ game.
“We knew that they were a team that liked to run up and down the court as fast as they can. They wanna put 100 on every team,” said Walker Winjum (Sr., G). “We talked about it before the game — try not to let them play at their speed and execute on offense, make your possessions count.”
Easier said than done.
“We can be more methodical and take a minute off the clock every time we're on offense, but we gotta be able to handle the pressure,” Garmen said. “They pressure in the halfcourt, and we were working too fast and trying to go to the bucket too quick.”
Caden Osborn (Sr., C) and Jack Garmen (Jr., G) made that work for much of the first half. While Osborn pounded away inside, Garmen netted several open jumpers, the product of the occasional instances of the Pirates breaking the Green Wave’s pressure, as the duo combined for 35 first-half points.
“We all thought we did really well in the first half keeping up with their pace and keeping the ball under control,” Osborn said. “... Just keeping our complexion on offense and not turning the ball over too many times.”
But Osborn and Garmen’s hot starts, in and of themselves, were indicative of how unsustainable Crookston’s first half was. Two players are nowhere near enough to keep up with one of the best teams in the state. Especially not with Easton Tangquist (Jr., G) and Carter Bruggeman (Jr., G), two members of the Pirates’ starting backcourt, sat for long stretches in the first half with foul trouble.
Crookston’s usual rotation consists of just seven players. The Pirates were already being stretched to their limit, and in the second half, East Grand Forks had no trouble pushing them over the edge.
The Green Wave trapped Crookston’s ballhandlers as soon as they crossed midcourt, threw double teams left and right, swarmed to every loose ball. If you saw one uncontested East Grand Forks layup, you saw the entire second half.
“All of us just got tired and weren't getting back on defense and we weren't finishing at the rim,” Osborn said. “We were getting tired and kinda getting lazy.”
“Wou could just tell that they were just deeper than us,” Winjum added. “They were rotating more guys through, we came out all tired, we were all just flat. … They’re a tough matchup for anybody, especially a team that’s not very deep, like us.”
At this point, at least, that’s not something Crookston can do anything about. The Pirates aren’t deep or athletic on the level of the Green Wave, slimming their margin for error to as thin as they come.
Crookston isn’t going to beat East Grand Forks at its own game. It knew that much already, and it got another reminder of that Thursday.
That being said, it bodes well for the Pirates for the next time these two teams play that many took away the same lessons from Thursday night. Play smart, slow the game down, take care of the ball. The tricky part is sticking to that script — and making the Green Wave forget about theirs.
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