At halftime, down three points to a Sauk Rapids team the Warriors beat by 42 points Nov. 26, the message Brainerd head coach Troy Nelson had for his team was clear -- work hard and play for each other.
“I did not think we played very hard in the first half,” Nelson said. “I thought our energy was below average for us and I thought Sauk Rapids dictated how the half was played and we needed to dictate the second half.”
The Warriors responded by forcing the Storm into 18 second-half turnovers -- 26 for the game -- and going on a 19-5 run to comeback and beat Sauk Rapids 69-60 Thursday, Jan. 16, at Brainerd High School.
Sauk Rapids’ 18 second-half turnovers coincided with the Warriors only having two. The defensive pressure by Ally Brzezinski at the top of Brainerd’s 1-3-1 zone made a difference.
“We picked up the defensive intensity, and that’s how we should be playing defense,” Nelson said. “I thought Ally had a great second half. She keeps getting better and better on top and forcing them to make some bad passes. When she plays with that energy our defense plays even better.”
Brainerd came out in a man-to-man defense to start the second half. In the first half, the Warriors tried pressing and the Storm broke it with ease to get layups. In the half-court is where Sauk Rapids struggled and that’s where Brainerd took control of the game.
Brzezinski finished with 10 points and finished off two breakaway layups after getting steals in the middle of Brainerd’s 19-5 run that broke it open.
“Coach said at halftime we really needed to respond and start talking to each other,” she said. “We started communicating well and playing more as a team, which helped us play good defense and get a lot of steals.”
Brzezinski also showed confidence in making her layups because she is used to having contact in practice.
“The coaches get the pads out under the basket and make sure we finish,” she said.
The Warriors struggled with Sauk Rapids’ inside play. Shayna Payonk scored a game-high 22 points -- all in the paint -- for the Storm. The Storm finished the half with eight offensive rebounds and 10 second-chance points which was the reason Sauk Rapids led at the half.
Olivia Tautges caught fire for Brainerd in the second half and finished with a team-high 18 points. In the second half, she nailed all four of her field-goal attempts and all three of her free throws to help the Warriors cap off another conference win.
Myah Nelson scored 16 points with three 3-pointers. She hit a 3-point shot to break a 47-47 tie to start Brainerd’s 19-5 run.
The Warriors also dominated at the foul line. They shot 20 more free throws than the Storm, but only made 61%.
Erika Lane finished with nine points.
The Warriors shot out to an 8-2 lead to start the game, but Sauk Rapids forced the Warriors into 11 first-half turnovers and scored six points off them to go along with 10 second-chance points.
The Storm shot 50% from the field, but the turnovers in the second half only allowed them to attempt 19 shots total.
“We did a good job of being in our gaps and forcing them into tough passes,” Nelson said. “Then when we went back to the 1-3-1 we forced quick turnovers that helped us get on a roll.”
The win puts the Warriors at 6-3 in Central Lakes Conference play and 6-7 overall. Moving forward, Brainerd plays another home game Saturday, Jan. 18, against Grand Rapids and will hope to build off its good conference record.
“We need to continue to get better on defense and when we play together on offense we can score points,” Nelson said. “We just got to continue to build that from game to game.”
For more photos, go to https://bit.ly/2FZTF3c.
Sauk Rapids 31 29 -- 60
Brainerd 28 41 -- 69
Mackenzie Felchle 3, Grace Roesch 14, Belle Haddy 3, Kyanah Evans 6, Noel Reberg 4, Keanna Guggisberg 2, Shayna Payonk 22, Mia Rogholt 4. FG 24-48 (50%), FT 10-14 (71%). 3-point 2-7 (29%).
Kate Stadum 3, Myah Nelson 16, Autumn Miles 7, Meghan Smith 1, Ally Brzezinski 10, Olivia Tautges 18, Grace Zimmerman 5, Erika Lane 9. FG 22-50 (44%), FT 21-34 (62%). 3-point 4-20 (20%).
Warriors 69, Sauk Rapids 60
Key: Big second half lifts Warriors over Sauk Rapids.
Conference: Brd 6-3, SR 1-7
Overall: Brd 6-7, SR 2-13
Next: hosts Grand Rapids 2:15 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 18.