CRYSTAL FALLS—Forest Park’s boys team has been struggling on offense for most of this season, but Coach Chris Nocerini could see signs that his team was coming together. It was just a matter of when.
“When” came on Feb. 7, when the Trojans ended a six-game losing streak with a 58-48 win at North Dickinson.
But was it just a one-time thing? At Rapid River on Feb. 10, the Trojans led at halftime, only to see the Rockets rally for a 52-41 win. Forest Park enters this week with a 5-10 record overall, 3-7 in Skyline Conference play.
The win at North Dickinson was very welcome, and so was the Trojans’ play.
“We played four quarters of basketball,” Nocerini said later, “and we improved every quarter. That’s all we’ve been asking of them.”
The coach said the game was won with defense and rebounding. “When we can score 58 points and grab 41 rebounds, we’re a tough team to beat.”
L.J. Burns boosted the Trojans on offense with 25 points. “We have the inside game,” said Nocerini. “We have just been struggling to find an outside game, and L.J. brought that to the game.” Besides his outside shots, Burns also drove inside, which meant Nordic defenders had to move over, and the other Trojans took advantage.
Near the end, the Nordics rallied back for a three-point lead. “We called a time-out,” said Nocerini, “and the kids got in the huddle said, Coach, we’re not losing this game.”
They didn’t, either.
Alex Takala played a big role, especially after Jake Divine fouled out in the fourth quarter. “Alex stepped up and played some great defense on [Bryon] Harper down the stretch—and hit some big shots for us.”
Behind Burns’ 25, the Trojans got eight points each from Divine and Tyler Lovato, seven from Takala and six from Ben Painter.
Harper led ND with 24 points, and Cory Johnson scored 16. “We basically shut the rest of the team down.”
FP had a big edge in rebounding, 41-24. Divine led with 10, Lovato and Michael Smithson both had nine, and Painter pulled down eight. “That’s what we’re going after.” The team has a goal of getting 50 boards in a game.
The Trojans shot 43% from the floor and made 75% of their free throws—15 of 20. Burns was 9 of 11 at the line.
At Rapid River, the Trojans played well in the first half and led 27-22 at the break. Then, in the third quarter, the roof caved in—the Rockets outgunned Forest Park 18-4.
The Trojans started well, hitting three triples in the first quarter. “It felt like we picked up where we left off Tuesday night.”
But after halftime, “We didn’t look like ourselves. They adjusted on us, and we just didn’t hit the boards well.” The Trojans only had 28 rebounds for the game; in recent games, they have been claiming over 40 boards.
“That’s what hurt is—the fundamental boxing out. We just didn’t do it well.” FP’s post players boxed out well, he said, but Rapid’s perimeter players were sliding in to get rebounds against the Trojans’ guards.
Another stat that caught the coach’s eye was free throw shooting: The Trojans were 3 for 7 all night. “That tells me we’re not attacking the basket.
“We’re going to work on that.” When FP’s guards are pressured, “They have to look at that as a great opportunity to attack the basket, to take that chance, pick up that foul and get on the free throw line.
“Three for seven says it right there: We’re not on the attack—we’re on the defense on offense. That’s why you have four-point third quarters.”
In the last weeks of the regular season, coaches will work hard to straighten it out. “That’s our goal: Total focus on getting this offense kicked in and finding out who wants to attack the basket.”
The Rockets also kicked up their offense in the second half—sophomore Jake Pearson scored 15 of his game-high 25 points after halftime. “They battled and hit shots, and we didn’t.
“But everything we see is very fixable.”
Smithson had the hot hand for the Trojans, leading the team with 12 points. Lovato and Divine had eight points each. Smithson also had a team-high nine rebounds.
“I swear, we have to be the hardest team to scout,” the coach said with a laugh. “They can tape us all they want, because I guarantee it won’t look anything like the next game.”
• This week, the Trojans stay home, hosting Republic-Michigamme on Feb. 14 and Bark River-Harris on Feb. 17. The team travels to Florence on Feb. 21.
Trojans 11 13 15 19 -- 58
Nordics 8 13 13 14 -- 48
Trojans 16 11 4 10 -- 41
Rockets 13 9 18 12 -- 52