East Ridge boys basketball: Raptors win openerEast Ridge started the year the right way, winning 75-71 over the Andover Huskies in the non-conference contest Saturday.
By: Patrick Johnson, sports editor, Woodbury Bulletin
Head coach Paul Virgin took a page from college hoops as the East Ridge boys basketball team opened the 2012-13 season with a Saturday afternoon matinee against Andover at ‘”The Perch.” East Ridge started the year the right way, winning 75-71 over the Huskies in the non-conference contest.
“It’s always good to win,” said Virgin, who is in his fourth year as head coach. “You’re not going to feel bad about that, but I think there are a lot of things we need to work on. There’s a lot the kids did really well though, too. It’s a four-month season and we’ll continue to work on those things.”
In a game that was much closer than last year’s season-opening 75-47 win at Andover, the Raptors (1-0) turned a 1-point deficit with just under nine minutes left on the clock into a 9-point lead with just over three minutes to play, then held on for the win.
East Ridge junior forward Brian Ishola and senior Conrad Sexe led the way for the Raptors in the victory. The 6-foot-4-inch Ishola scored a team-high 23 points – including 17 in the first half – and Sexe, a 6-foot-7-inch center, came away with a double-double on 22 points and 11 rebounds. Andover (0-1) was led by 6-foot-5-inch junior guard Connor Wilkie who had a game-high 24 points.
“I felt like I had to really assert myself today,” Ishola said. “It’s the first game of the season and we had to come out strong. We lost one of our main scorers from last year in Justin (Pahl), so I felt like the team needs someone to score. I just tried to step in and play my role.”
Virgin said he liked the way East Ridge’s offense got out and ran and attacked the basket, but was not proud of the team’s defense and rebounding.
“We need to get more stops and make it much more difficult for the other team to score,” he said. “That’s one of the things we want to hang our hat on. The three things we’re focusing on this year are pushing the ball up the floor, good defense and teamwork. We did two of those three pretty well today, we just need to work on the third one.”
In the back-and-forth game, East Ridge ran out to a 43-38 halftime lead behind Ishola, who was a force when driving to the basket off the dribble. With the game tied 34-34, Ishola scored three-straight buckets on drives to the hole to make it a 40-38 game. Then, a 3-pointer by junior guard Jake Knupp from the corner made it a 43-38 game. Knupp had 11 points and hit three 3-pointers in the game.
In the second half, Andover took a 55-54 lead with eight minutes, 58 seconds to play. However, East Ridge went on a quick 8-0 run with four-straight baskets – three by Sexe - to give the Raptors a 62-55 lead with 6:25 remaining in the game.
East Ridge never gave back the lead. Up 73-69 with 25.8 seconds left to play, Sexe hit both ends of a 1-and-1 from the free throw line to put the Raptors up 75-69 and all but seal it for the home team.
“I liked the way Brian attacked the basket, I liked the way Jake (Knupp) and Sid (Tomes) worked together finding each other and I thought Conrad (Sexe) and Ryan Keenan did a good job inside,” Virgin said. “I think our bigs are going to pose a lot of problems. Ryan Mathis was a nice compliment on the wing again too.”
East Ridge, which is coming off a 9-18 overall season a year ago, traveled to Red Wing (1-1) on Tuesday, Dec. 4, after the Bulletin went to print. Next, the Raptors head to St. Louis Park on Friday, Dec. 7, to tip off with the Orioles (1-0).
“It’s nice to get going,” Virgin said. “Our kids think we have something special here and we want to build on it. This is just a stepping stone. Although it was a small step it was a step in the right direction.”
Ishola said he’s excited the season is rolling.
“It feels great to start the season on a good note,” Ishola said. “We just want to keep it going.”