Alexandria boys’ basketball fans who came to Jefferson High School on Friday night hoping to see a dominant performance in the season opener got what they came for, it just came from the wrong team.
Aaron Lien of Moorhead is fresh off signing his letter of intent to play basketball at Minnesota State University-Moorhead next fall. He also knows all about the attention Alexandria’s Logan Doyle received from college coaches before signing with South Dakota State University in mid-November. A chance to prove himself against another top player in the state was a little extra motivation as Lien finished with an impressive 30-point performance that led Moorhead to a 69-42 win over Alexandria.
“It does have a little bit of a factor on it,” Lien said. “But I try to push that away come game time. He’s a very good player, and I think our goal as a team was to try and get into his head a little bit and get him frustrated. I think we accomplished that. But it is always fun to go up against another very, very good player.”
Lien used his long and athletic frame to make it look easy throughout much of the night. The 6’5″ forward jumped on Alexandria early with 19 points in the first half to guide the Spuds to a 40-18 lead by the break.
“Lien is a very good player,” Alexandria head coach Forrest Witt said. “I think he’s probably a top 15 player in the state. You look at his game and everything he did was in the flow of the offense. He made his teammates better. A really good player can do those things. It just comes and he doesn’t force it. When the defense takes something away, he makes the right play.”
Austin Nelson also helped contribute to some torrid shooting for the Spuds. The 6’6″ senior forward finished with 21 points himself as Moorhead expanded its lead out even further in the second half.
Lien continued to stretch the defense during that run. He plays on the perimeter a lot more than Doyle, but the Cardinals’ big man took on the challenge of guarding him for a period of time in the second half.
Doyle was matched up on him near the right wing when Lien hit a deep three over the top of him. That epitomized the kind of night it was for the future Dragon as Doyle could do nothing but shake his head.
“I knew he was good,” Doyle said. “We played against him a lot during the summer in AAU. When guards are feeling it, they can really pull up anywhere. I don’t think I could have done anything different. My hand was in his face. I don’t know how he saw the basket to be honest. When they’re on, good players are just on.”
Doyle could never find that same kind of groove down on the block. He finished with 12 points as Moorhead did everything it could to take him out of the game. The Spuds sent double teams at him every time he touched the ball. He did have two dunks on the night but struggled to get the ball deep in the post. At times, junior guard David Krivanek was able to make Moorhead pay for collapsing into the lane. Krivanek connected on a few threes and led the Cardinals with 14 points.
“Team-wise, I think we forced a lot of shots, myself included,” Doyle said. “We took shots where we should have passed it around a couple more times. I just don’t think we were ready to play. The inexperience showed I think with a lot of guys in their first start. I think now that we got one under our belt, I think we should at least play a lot better. There was definitely some nerves. [tonight].”
It didn’t help that Alexandria was without one of its top players in John Vogeler. The junior guard aggravated an ankle injury earlier in the week that he has played through for a while now. Witt said he hopes to have him back for practice on Monday before the Cardinals game against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday.
“Obviously, we’re a better team with John, but we just have to get better,” Witt said. “We don’t win with John in this game as it was. We just have to be more disciplined and play together for an entire game. We fell apart when things got hard.”
The end result was a disappointing start to a season that Alexandria has high hopes for. The Cardinals know there is only one thing they can do after taking it on the chin against a good Moorhead team. That’s focus on getting better, starting with an early-morning practice on Saturday.
“If this doesn’t give you motivation to go hard into your next game, nothing really will,” Doyle said. “Losing by 27 is bad enough. Losing by 27 at home is embarrassing. You should never lose by that much at home.”