Searching for a way to shake the slow-start doldrums, Grand Island Senior High coach Jeremiah Slough dug deep into his bag of tricks.
How deep? The Islanders unveiled an offense that the Doane University junior varsity team used when Slough was an assistant coach there in 2011.
The new look worked to near perfection as Grand Island hit 8 of 9 first-quarter shots to build a 21-7 lead before holding on for a 61-56 home victory over Lincoln Northeast Friday night. Islanders’ leading scorer Isaac Traudt was the chief beneficiary, scoring 12 of his game-high 24 points in the first eight minutes.
“We just decided to take a look at that offense this week in practice,” Slough said. “It does a pretty good job of getting Isaac on the back side and it takes away a lot of the help (defense). Fortunately, we executed it well and we were able to get Isaac quite a few scoring opportunities in the first quarter.”
Traudt hit his first four field-goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. The 6-foot-9 junior finished 9 of 12 shooting from the floor as Grand Island shot 61.1% (22 of 36), including going 6 of 13 from 3-point range.
“We talked all week about the importance of getting off to a quick start,” Slough said. “The last three games, Millard West had us down 17-2, Columbus got ahead 12-1 and Lincoln North Star was ahead of us 11-0. That just leaves us fighting an uphill battle and it’s really hard to do that.
“With the quality of competition that we play night in and night out, you just can’t dig yourself that kind of hole and we’re not a team that’s really built to come from behind.”
Unselfish play was key to Grand Island’s offensive success. The Islanders recorded assists on 15 of their 22 field goals, with Kytan Fyfe racking up six assists and Dylan Sextro and Aiden Klemme each getting four.
“It’s a point of emphasis that we want to get rid of the fear of failure, offensively, and start making basketball plays,”Slough said.
“Assists are a really important basketball play and we’re doing a better job of sharing it and finding each other when we’re open.
“What allowed us to do that is handling ball-pressure better than we had in our last few games. Tonight, we did a good job of that and were able to get Northeast on its heels a little bit.”
Northeast coach Monte Ritchie agreed.
“Grand Island is really well-coached and they’ve made some good adjustments with the way Traudt is being guarded,” Ritchie said. “They ran good counters to some of our stuff and I told our coaches, ‘I think they have more offensive sets than the (Los Angeles) Lakers.’
“Grand Island had an answer for everything we tried to do, so give them credit.”
Islander Jacob Nesvara finished with 13 points and seven rebounds, going 5 of 7 from the free-throw line in the final 2:03. Sextro added 11 points.
Northeast (9-4), which trailed 50-37 with 6:23 to play after a 3-pointer by Klemme, made eight of its first nine shots in the fourth quarter. The Rockets cut their deficit to 56-54 on a Pierce Bazil runner with 53 seconds to play, but Grand Island was 5 of 8 at the foul line in the final 46.6 seconds to seal the victory.
“Early on, Grand Island threw us off rhythm with a different defense than what we’ve seen, so give them credit,” said Ritchie, whose team shot 3 of 14 from the field in the first quarter. “It just took us some time to adjust to it. Once we did, we were OK, but it was too little, too late.”
Bazil finished with 20 points to lead Northeast. Connor Renard added 14 points and nine rebounds before fouling out with 35.8 seconds to play.
Slough said it was a big win for the Islanders (9-6), whose previous eight victories had all come against opponents with records below .500.
“We stressed to our guys that we needed a quality win,” Slough said. “This is our first win this season against a team with a winning record and we needed that. We needed this to build some confidence to understand that we can play with the best teams in the state.”
Lincoln Northeast 62, Grand Island 40
Lincoln Northeast used a 22-9 third-quarter scoring advantage to pull away for a 62-40 road victory at Grand Island.
Nyathak Gatluak led four Rockets in double figures with a game-high 15 points. A’lyana Jones scored 14 points, six-foot-1 Doneelah Washington had 12 points, 19 rebounds and four blocked shots and Monica Gutierrez finished with 11 points for Northeast (3-8), which used its significant size advantage to outrebound the Islanders 56-35.
“We’re going to be outsized inside when our tallest kid is 5-8 and everyone in Class A has 6-footers except for us,” Grand Island coach Scott Hirchert said. “We’ve had to play a lot of zone defense because of that and we need to understand that if we don’t get into (the opponent) and check out, they’re still going to be able to come over the top of us.
“Our kids are battling, but we just have to be a little stronger and get them pushed away from the rim.”
For the second consecutive outing, Grand Island (0-16) increased its season-high scoring total coming off Tuesday night’s 50-37 loss to Hastings. The Islanders had success driving to the basket as Claire Kelly scored a team-high 13 points, going 7 of 9 from the free-throw line.
Abbi Maciejewski added nine points for GISH, which finished 5 of 17 from 3-point range and outscored the Rockets 17-16 in the fourth quarter.
“We talked to our kids about how we had to be more aggressive getting to the basket,” Hirchert said. “We’ve had several games where we haven’t shot very many free throws and we’ve got to get to the line. I thought Claire and several other kids did a great job of that tonight and Thursday night against Hastings.
“Hopefully this gives us a little bit of confidence as the last two nights we were able to hit some shots. We’ve been able to drive or drive and kick and find the open man, so hopefully it’s starting to click.”