WATERTOWN – Both the Watertown-Mayer and Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted boys basketball teams came into their matchup riding high Tuesday night. While both were looking to pick up another win against a section opponent, it was the Royals who used a late push to come out on top in an exciting 51-42 victory over the Lakers on their home floor.
“Good teams find ways to win even when they’re not playing well,” W-M coach Kent Janikula said. “Not everything went our way tonight. It was kind of a slugfest, and not the prettiest basketball game to watch. It’s a sign of a good team if you can win in different ways.”
“This was a high-intensity basketball game between two rivals,” HLWW coach James Carr said. “It was a lot of fun. It was a great high school basketball game.”
The Royals struggled early, finding themselves down by five at the half after HLWW’s Carson Woolhouse drilled a 3-pointer shortly before the buzzer. Despite being down at the half, the Royals came out ready to roll in the second half, making another late push in the second half.
Keeping HLWW’s Brock Bangasser in check was a big focus for the Royals in the second half.
“Bangasser is a really good player,” Janikula said. “He’s a unique player. He’s a 6-foot-7 back to the basket type player, and he does such a good job working before the ball comes.”
After Bangasser helped lead the Lakers to a lead in the first half, Will McBee stepped up his game, along with his teammates, on the defensive end.
“He stepped it up,” Janikula said about McBee. “We challenged the guys at halftime to step up. They were more physical than us the first half. We just played a really physical team, so we were used to going at it.”
While the defense stepped up their game, the offense came along with it. A 3-pointer from Ethan Tang gave the Royals their first lead of the game at 32-30 with just over 11 minutes left to play.
“I think we’re learning about that,” Janikula said. “Early in the year, we got so caught up in that all of our energy was created off whether a shot went in or not. We’re starting to realize that we’re a really good defensive team. We can create energy from our defense. We can’t control if the ball is going in the hoop, but we can control how hard we are playing on defense.”
After fighting their way back into the game, the Royals made their move late in the second half. With the game tied at 39 with eight minutes to play, it was all Royals down the stretch. A 10-0 run gave W-M their biggest lead of the night, and it was the defense doing it once again.
“I told them in the locker room that our defensive mindset right now is fantastic,” Janikula said. “If we continue to hold teams, and we held them to 42 points, we’re going to win a lot of basketball games.”
During the big run for the Royals, it was Sam Ragner leading the way once again. With a two-possession lead and just under two minutes to go, Ragner knocked down another big jumper out of an out-of-bounds play for the Royals, ultimately sealing the win.
“He’s a gamer,” Janikula said. “No moment is too big for him. One of the things I enjoy about him, is that when we were up six there, and he took that shot with two minutes to go. He’s confident. He’s going to knock it down. He’s that type of kid.”
While the Royals made it four-straight wins and back-to-back wins against Section 5AA opponents, the Lakers had their four-game winning streak snapped. The Lakers came into the matchup playing well, but are still searching for a complete game as a team.
“That full 36 minutes is what we’re going to keep striving for,” Carr said. “That first half, we played fantastic. In the second half, we just had some looks that didn’t go. The effort was there all game. Take your hats off to the guys for how hard they played. Now, the next step for us as a team, is putting that whole game together. We want that statement game where we play from buzzer to buzzer the way I know we can play.”
With their four-game winning streak snapped, the Lakers will look to put this loss behind them. With a tough conference schedule ahead of them, Carr and the Lakers know how important it is to move on.
“We know we’ve got conference games coming up,” Carr said. “They’re a lot of fun. We have Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa on Thursday, so there’s another game where it’s going to be tough and physical on the road. We’ll take it on the chin, move forward, and try to get that win the next game.”
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