After a rough start to the week against Norwood Young America, the Watertown-Mayer boys’ basketball team regrouped with back-to-back wins to move to .500 on the season.
Star forward Luke Sandquist returned from injury to see his first action of the season in the final two games of the week — wins over LeSueur-Henderson and Mound-Westonka — as the Royals started to show glimpses of the team they can be with their entire lineup on the floor.
“It was huge having him back in the lineup,” Watertown-Mayer coach Bob Hennen said.
NYA 69, Royals 50
Norwood Young America jumped out to a big early lead against the Royals and held on for a Minnesota River Conference win in Watertown on Tuesday, Dec. 10.
The Raiders scored the first 11 points in the game, and though Watertown-Mayer trimmed the lead down to about 5 points at one point, the Royals never really had much of a shot. Not with the way the Raiders were shooting the ball.
NYA ended up hitting 17 of 32 three-point attempts in the game, and had three players hit at least four 3 pointers. The Raiders hit six of their first seven threes as they built their big early lead, and ended up taking a 31-19 lead into the half.
“Every time we made a little run, they made a three,” Hennen said.
The Raiders came out in the second half and once again hit three quick 3-pointers to pad their lead.
“They were incredible from the 3-point line,” Hennen said.
Kurt Klitzke was the only Watertown-Mayer player in double figures with 11 points. Trae Berhow added seven and Nick Parker scored six.
“It was a very disappointing game,” Hennen said. “We did not shoot well at all, and had too many turnovers. NYA shot great, but we did not do a good enough job on defense, either.”
Royals 63, LSH 56
After going into the half tied, LeSueur-Henderson led for the majority of the second half before the Royals rallied late for the MRC win on Friday, Dec. 13.
LSH led 53-45 with about 6 minutes left, but big baskets from Brett Johnson, Ryne Alger, Hunter Hulley and Sandquist helped the Royals take the lead with about 2 minutes left. Berhow also hit two big free throws down the stretch to pad the lead, as the Royals pulled away in the closing minutes for the 7-point win.
Most important in the late rally was the fact that Watertown-Mayer held the Giants scoreless for the final few minutes of the game.
“I thought our defense was so good at the end,” Hennen said. “We contested shots and rebounded.”
In his first action of the year, Sandquist posted a double-double with 11 points and 12 rebounds. Alger had a team-high 13 points, and Klitzke added nine points and five assists.
Johnson added seven points, while Berhow had four points and eight rebounds. Hennen said that in general, the bench play of Berhow, Jesse Bushman, Parker and Jack Nolan was very good.
Royals 58, M-W 37
After a sloppy start to the game for both teams that resulted in a 24-17 halftime lead for Watertown-Mayer, the Royals exploded late in the second half to pull away for a 21-point victory.
The Royals trailed, 16-15, at one point in the first half, before using a 9-1 run to pull ahead before halftime. That run was sparked by a five-point possession, when Parker hit a pair of technical free throws and Hunter Hulley drained a 3-pointer.
“Our defense at the end of the half was terrific, and having the lead at the half was key because we did not play great on offense, but our defense bailed us out.”
Mound-Westonka cut the lead to four points early in the second half, but Watertown-Mayer responded by getting some key defensive stops and easy buckets in transition. After building a 39-30 lead, the Royals closed the game on a 19-7 run.
“Again, the bench play of Bushman, Parker, Berhow and Nolan was terrific,” Hennen said. “Our starters played good and the reserves increased the lead when they came in. I thought that energy was a key in us expanding the lead. We did a good job controlling the pace of the game the last 6 minutes when Mound was pressuring us, and we got a lot of layups.”
Alger finished with a team-high 14 points, and he added five rebounds and four assists. Hulley had 13 points, four assists and three blocks, and Sandquist had 12 points and eight rebounds.
Parker had eight points, Berhow had five points and seven rebounds, Nolan had four points and four rebounds and Klitzke had five rebounds.
Hennen said team defense was key in holding the Whitehawks to 37 points, especially since they came in averaging more than 60 per game. Hulley held the Whitehawks’ leading scorer, who was averaging 20 points per game, to just five points, and Johnson and Bushman teamed up to hold the Whitehawks’ second-leading scorer, who was averaging 15, to just 1 point.
Though Mound-Westonka is still winless, many of their losses are to the likes of Waconia, Chanhassen and Wayzata.
“We knew they could beat us if we did not play well,” Hennen said.
The Royals hit the court just once this week. They’ll take on Tri City United at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 19, in Montgomery.