Kearney got off to a great start then held on late to secure a 56-51 victory Lincoln North Star on Friday night, avenging a loss to the Gators from earlier in the season.
Here are five thoughts on the game.
Living by the 3
The story of the game was Kearney’s perimeter shooting.
The Bearcats hit four 3s in the first quarter, two in the second, three in the third and two more in the fourth to finish 11-for-26 (42.3%), the team’s second-best shooting display of the season.
The Bearcats had to shot it that way from the perimeter to get the win as North Star’s size and aggressive zone made it difficult to score inside the arc. Kearney shot just 8-for-22 on 2-pointers and only took eight free throws.
Senior Jack Dahlgren was the best player on the floor, putting up a career-high 26 points on 9-of-14 from the field including 5-of-9 from deep and 3-of-3 from the foul line. The 6-foot-4 guard is having a terrific season, averaging a team-high 16.6 points, and Friday was the fourth 20-point outing of the season for him. He typically does the majority of his work inside the arc (shooting over 60% on 2s this season) but showed no hesitation from the arc on Friday, topping his previous best in made 3s by two shots.
Sophomore Ben Johnson also went 3-for-6 from deep including a dagger from the corner with less than 30 seconds to play after North Star had pulled within three. The 6-foot-4 wing finished with 15 points and 14 rebounds while battling inside all game with North Star’s bigs.
Senior Trey Beckman lived up to his name with a pair of 3s and eight points while junior point guard Karter Lee hit the remaining 3 during the Bearcats’ big first quarter.
No Quit in These Gators
Kearney blitzed North Star out of the gate, shooting 8-of-13 from the field including four 3s while outscoring the Gators 21-8. A four-point play from Dahlgren extended the lead to 14 early in the second quarter.
The Gators settled in and began clawing their way back into the game. KG Gatwech scored six points during a 7-0 run to cut the lead in half before another Dahlgren 3 pushed the lead back to 10 at halftime.
North Star used another 7-0 run early in the third quarter to cut the lead down to four. The Gators kept pushing, making it a two-point game late in the period before Beckman hit a 3 to make it 41-36 Kearney heading into the fourth.
Kearney stretched the lead back to nine with 2:38 to go, but the Gators still didn’t quit, ripping off an 8-2 run to make it a three-point game before Johnson’s dagger 3. Sam Schaefer answered Johnson’s 3 with one of his own to keep North Star’s hopes alive with 7.8 to go, but Asher Endorf hit a pair of bonus free throws to seal the victory.
Neutralizing North Star’s Size
North Star starts 6-foot-4, 6-foot-4, 6-foot-8 and 6-foot-8 around its 6-foot point guard. Kearney’s starting front court of Johnson and Endorf are listed at 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-5, respectively. Kearney was at a significant size disadvantage heading in.
Seniors Antallah Sandlin’el and Brennon Clemmons Jr. combined to average 31.3 points and 18.8 rebounds on the season heading into the game. The Bearcats were not going to let those two beat them, however, as they doubled hard on every post touch and fought to prevent deep catches in the first place.
They grabbed 10 boards apiece, but combined for just 13 points on 16 shots. All three of Clemmons’ buckets were put-backs while Sandlin’el had a put-back and two fadeaway jumpers in the lane.
The Bearcats gave up seven offensive rebounds in the first quarter but they cleaned things up after that, allowing just four in the last three periods.
Houston Can Heat Up
Gatwech sparked the comeback in the second quarter, but the second half belonged to sophomore Lazerek Houston. The transfer from Lincoln Northeast had a nightmare start to the game, missing all six of his shots in the first quarter including a few rim-outs. He didn’t take a shot in the second quarter.
On the first pay of the second half, Houston got all the way to the rim and finished, and seeing the ball go through the rim is all he needed. He hit his first four shots for North Star’s first nine points in the third quarter, then hit another 3 later on for a 12-point period.
He scored all eight of North Star’s points during the run that cut the deficit to three before Johnson’s 3.
Houston finished with 20 points including four 3s in the second half, two points shy of his career high. He’s averaging 11.4 points this year, and if he can find a little more consistency he can become a real weapon for the Gators to supplement what they get from the two senior bigs.
Husker Head Coaches
Friday’s game featured former Nebrasketball players on both sidelines.
Drake Beranek is in his eighth season as the head coach at Kearney. He spent two years (redshirting one) as a walk-on for Doc Sadler after a three-year standout career at UNK. He has a .675 winning percentage with three state tournament appearances, and the Bearcats are 12-4 after Friday’s win. If you’ve never seen Beranek coach, it’s quite entertaining. He coaches with as much fire and enthusiasm as you’ll see and he’s been very successful doing so.
On the other bench, Lee Steinbrook — who played for Danny Nee in the ‘90s — is in his first year at the helm of the Gators. He’s just the second head coach in program history after Tony Quattrocchi guided the team for its first 19 seasons.
Sitting at 10-5, the Gators have already surpassed last season’s win total after they went 9-15 and logged one win over a team that finished above .500. North Star has really quality wins over Omaha Creighton Prep, Lincoln High and Lincoln Northeast so far this season with games against Lincoln Pius X, Gretna, Lincoln East and Lincoln Southeast among others remaining. Steinbrook has done a great job this season and has North Star in the mix with all the other Lincoln schools for a postseason berth.
Jacob Padilla has been writing for Hail Varsity since 2015. He covers football, volleyball men’s basketball and prep sports. He also co-hosts the Nebraska Preps Postgame and Nebraska Shootaround podcasts for the Hurrdat Media and Hail Varsity podcast networks. 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.