Lincoln Northeast avenged a regular season loss and advanced to the A-6 District Final with a 47-37 win over Grand Island on Monday night.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Lincoln Northeast Lockdown
Head coach Monte Ritchie (a former Nebrasketball manager) has said the Rockets pride themselves on defense, and they showed that on Monday night. The Rockets limited the Islanders to 32.4% shooting including 4-of-14 in the first half as they took a 20-13 lead into halftime.
Northeast can switch one through five and pressured the ball heavily on Monday, making the Islander ball-handlers uncomfortable most of the night and challenging every shot around the rim (Grand Island shot just 6-of-19 inside the arc). Junior Porter Bazil is a good shot-blocker on the back end as well.
The Islanders scored just 22 points through the first three quarters before knocking down four 3s in the fourth quarter to keep themselves in the game.
Tough Guy Traudt
Grand Island’s loss marked the end of a fantastic high school career for Isaac Traudt. The 4-star recruit finished with 1,500-plus points and 550-plus rebounds as a four-year varsity player and three-year starter.
Unfortunately, Traudt’s career ends without a state tournament appearance. His best chance at making it to Lincoln was his sophomore season as the Islanders took Omaha Creighton Prep to overtime in the district final that year before coming up just short. Even so, what he accomplished during his high school career was tremendous as he averaged roughly 24 points and nine rebounds the last two seasons as the No. 1 option for the Islanders.
Unfortunately, his career nearly came to an end before the end of the first quarter on Monday. With Grand Island leading 5-4, Traudt went up in a crowd battling for a rebound. A Rocket secured the ball and put it back in the basket to take the lead while Traudt came down wrong and tweaked his right ankle.
He limped back to the bench and didn’t return for the rest of the half. He spent that time and halftime getting it looked at, testing it out and getting it wrapped up tight. Without him on the court, Grand Island scored just eight points.
Traudt returned to the game 52 seconds into the third quarter, though he was heavily favoring his right ankle. The Islanders stuck him in the middle of a 2-3 and didn’t ask him to leave the paint on defense. On his first touch on offense, he showed off the shot-making ability that makes him special with a turnaround fadeaway off his one good foot. He went on to score seven of Grand Island’s nine points in the third quarter despite essentially playing on one leg.He hit a ridiculous side-step 3 in the fourth quarter as well.
Traudt finished with 13 points and five rebounds, but he probably shouldn’t have been playing at all. His talent has been evident for a long time, but on Monday night he showed his toughness as well. Virginia’s getting a good one in the 6-foot-9 forward.
Offensively Balanced, But More Punch Needed
Lincoln Northeast won a game despite not having a single player crack double figures in scoring. Christian Winn and Bazil led the way with nine points apiece. Carlos Valdez added eight. Zander Beard, Adonis Jones and G Gatnoor scored six points apiece while Jalen Lang chipped in three.
The Rockets shot just 35.7% from the field including 4-of-17 from 3. They defended well enough to build a lead then went 9-for-13 from the foul line in the fourth to hold on, though the Islanders did close the gap to five in the final period.
The Rockets got off to a 10-0 start this season, averaging 65.1 points in those wins. Since then, Northeast is 8-6 while averaging 55.3 points. If the Rockets want to keep this run going, they’ll have to reagin their early-season offensive form. Winn leads the team with just under 12 points per game, but all seven players in their main rotations have multiple double-digit scoring games this season and any of them are capable of stepping up in any given game.
Grand Island faced a brutal schedule to open the season, losing seven of their first nine games. The schedule lightened up to a certain extent after that, but the Islanders’ lineup also changed as St. Paul Transfer Andy Poss became eligible a the end of the first semester.
Poss provided a different dynamic to the Grand Island backcourt to take some of the pressure off Traudt. He was second on the team in scoring average with five double-digit games. On Monday, he finished with a game-high 15 points while shooting 4-of-8 from 3 and grabbing six rebounds. Poss hit back-to-back 3s in the fourth quarter to pull Grand Island within five at 34-29 midway through the period, but Northeast stretched it back out again.
Grand Island went 8-5 with both Poss and Traudt in the lineup, and that includes a 46-44 win at Lincoln Northeast in late January.
With the win, Lincoln Northeast moved on to Wednesday’s A-6 district final. The Rockets will face the district’s top seed, Omaha Creighton Prep, with a trip to the state tournament on the line. The Junior Jays beat Omaha Bryan 53-36 behind a big game from Martel Evans.
Prep and Northeast faced off during the regular season at the Heider Center. The game was tight down to the wire, but Prep made the plays late to pull out a 59-53 win. The Junior Jays forced 15 Northeast turnovers while giving the ball away just seven times themselves, and that edge in possessions was enough to push prep over the top.
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.