Boys Basketball: Senior Smith, sophomore Ahonen light up Flyers
On senior night, a sophomore grew up.
Brainerd’s Kobe Ahonen, a 6-foot-5 first-year varsity player, erupted for a career-high 21 points, 13 coming in the second half, to help the Warriors to a 63-53 victory over the Little Falls Flyers Thursday night at Brainerd High School.
Ahonen, who has started every game this season, was coming off a 15-point performance Tuesday against Sauk Rapids. He topped that Thursday by shooting 7-of-9 from the field and 7-of-10 from the line. Combined with Isaiah Smith’s long-range attack, the two tallied 46 of Brainerd’s 63 points.
“We were just playing together as a team,” said Ahonen. “We came together and got the win.”
Smith and Ahonen each scored 13 points and Brainerd capitalized on 10 Flyer turnovers in the second half to build a 61-44 lead. Little Falls shot just 7-of-20 (35 percent) in the second half.
But the Flyers, led by Riley Loukinen’s 15 points off the bench, rattled off a 9-0 run to cut Brainerd’s lead to nine late. It was their closest deficit since the start of the second half.
“I just thought our guys were in too big of a hurry offensively,” said Flyers head coach Kevin Jordan. “That’s one of the things when you pick up the intensity you worry about offensively. Are you rushing your shots a little bit? I think we did. You have to calm yourself down and take shots in rhythm even though the intensity has picked up.”
Bryce Zawatzke and Sebastian Sowada each scored 11 for the Flyers, who finish the regular season 11-15. Zawatzke added 12 rebounds as the Flyers outrebounded Brainerd 36-28.
“Thank God we were able to hit shots because Little Falls’ big kids — No. 1, they were bigger than what I thought,” said Warriors head coach Scott Stanfield. “And No. 2, they were fairly athletic. I think they are a very good basketball team. And against their zone we needed to shoot well.
“What we also did, was Little Falls extended their zone pretty high and we were able to get it to the high post and look down and find Kobe underneath the basket.”
Ahonen hit two free throws for the game’s final two points. Senior post Nick Schwen struggled with foul trouble and was held scoreless. Senior Logan McElfresh came off the bench and scored five before fouling out, giving Ahonen’s big game more importance.
“His play tonight for a sophomore was outstanding,” said Stanfield. “He did everything for us. He got a little tired and had to come out a little bit, but I’m looking forward to coaching that young man for a couple more years.”
Smith, who led all scorers with 25, scored 12 in the first half. Nine of those points came from closer to half court than the 3-point line as the senior guard stretched the Flyers’ zone defense. He finished 4-of-7 from 3-point range.
“I don’t think our guys were used to a guy shooting a basketball out that far,” said Jordan. “We had talked about it and said simply that we aren’t going to take those shots away from him, but we had to contest them. That’s been one of our strengths down the stretch. We’ve contested shots with a sense of urgency, but on his, I don’t think we were getting there very quick because they didn’t think he was going to make them. It’s hard to adjust when someone is shooting that far out.”
Senior Grant Reuer and senior DJ Kraemer also drained 3s in the first half to help Brainerd to a 35-29 halftime lead.
“During practice these seniors would teach us and help us out,” said Ahonen. “They’re a good group of guys and we’re going to miss them.”
Little Falls 26 27 — 53
Brainerd 35 28 — 63
Riley Loukinen 15, Sebastian Sowada 11, Jake Loukinen 6, Thomas Bell 3, John Lukasavitz 2, Bryce Zawatzke 11, Cameron Smith 1, Mark Hanowski 4. FG 15-43 (35 percent), FT 18-30 (60 percent). 3-point 5-13 (39 percent).
DJ Kraemer 3, Logan McElfresh 5, Grant Reuer 5, Logan Madsen 4, Isaiah Smith 25, Kobe Ahonen 21. FG 22-45 (49 percent), FT 13-27 (48 percent). 3-point 6-18 (33 percent).