The Alexandria boys’ basketball team had just been on the wrong side of a back-and-forth game in a 64-63 loss to Brainerd last Thursday night.
Six days later, the Cardinals found themselves in a similar situation as they welcomed in Red Wing in the middle of Christmas break. This time, Alexandria was the team that made the big shots and got the key stops at critical moments to pick up a 67-65 win in overtime.
“It was good to see our kids bounce back,” head coach Forrest Witt said. “I thought the game was in both team’s favor a couple times where we had control and had the basketball and then they had control and the basketball. I thought it was critical that we didn’t let go, and we kept battling and got a stop here and there when we needed it.”
It was a good test for a young group of Alexandria players who are still adjusting at the varsity level. Neither team was able to create much distance throughout the night. The largest lead of the second half was just five points for the Cardinals.
The Wingers’ Joel Newman kept his team close with some big shots down the stretch. He knifed his way through the lane for two of his 18 points to tie the game at 54 apiece with 14.9 seconds left. Alexandria’s Austin Storm got a decent look at a runner in the lane in the closing seconds, but the shot came up short as the two teams went to overtime.
Storm had 18 points and Logan Doyle 16, but it was Alexandria’s Jordan Smith that took over in the extra session. The senior guard had just three points in regulation but finished with eight in the overtime. Six of those points came on clutch threes with his team trailing by two points each time. His second three gave the Cardinals a 60-59 lead that they would not relinquish the rest of the way.
“Really it just happened because Storm was on fire so I got open,” Smith said. “They had to guard him tight so I was open, and I just knocked them down. It felt great.”
Last year, Alexandria fans knew the ball would be in the hands of leading scorer Parker Giroux with the game on the line. The Cardinals needed to establish some new go-to-guys down the stretch this season. Smith went a long way toward doing that on Wednesday night.
“I think Jordan is the type of player where he likes and he welcomes those big shots,” Witt said. “He hit two big threes for us and he hit his free throws down the stretch…I think he likes that. He doesn’t get rattled by pressure. If we can get some of that throughout the game from him, that will be a huge help for us.”
Alexandria is still in the process of establishing what it can do with certain players. The Cardinals know who they want to be – that’s a team that punishes teams inside to open things up on the perimeter. Doyle at 6’7″ and senior AJ Anderson at 6’4″ give this team something it hasn’t had in the last couple years, which is two players who have the ability to control the paint.
“This year we are a much different team with AJ and [Ted] Deitz and Doyle in the post,” Witt said. “Then you have Clayton Cozad and Logan Serum. We’re bigger and stronger than we have been. We want to play in the post and work towards the perimeter from what we do in the post. I think we’re starting to see what we can do.”
Doyle was key early in helping Alexandria to a 26-25 lead at the break. He had 11 of his 16 points in the opening half before Red Wing slowed him down a bit in the second half with a zone that kept him from getting the ball on the block. The junior is starting to establish himself as a go-to guy in the post, averaging 17.3 points a night in the last three games.
“I wanted to carry over from the previous couple games,” Doyle said. “Losing to Brainerd by one really kind of made us all a little mad. We were a little more hungry, and we definitely weren’t going to let this one slip away.”
The Cardinals have now won three of their last four games after dropping their opening two by a combined 34 points. Doyle said this is a team that believes it will get better with experience and has the talent to make a run in the playoffs. Finding a way to win a close game like they did against the Wingers is proof the Cardinals are moving in the right direction.
“It builds a lot of character,” Doyle said. “Close games like this build up who you’re going to be. We were down, they score the first two points in overtime, and we can either curl up and just cry about it or we can battle back. [Jordan] took control and did exactly that.”