KELLOGG –– Was it home court advantage, or was there something else about Monday night that made the Kellogg Wildcats play their best game of basketball this year?
Hosting the Wallace Miners, a team that had beaten them twice already this season, the Wildcats were in need of a signature win and they got it as they knocked off the Miners 70-58.
From the opening tip it was clear that the game would be an extremely physical affair, as both teams felt each other out, but the Miners landed the first punch as they wrapped up the first quarter on top 12-10.
From then on the game was played at a near frenetic pace as both teams raced up and down the floor, trading baskets as well as the lead, it became clear that this game wasn’t going the same way as the two previous matchups.
A late basket from Kellogg gave them a 31-30 lead headed into halftime, but the game was far from over.
Both teams traded the lead early in the third quarter, but a timely Graden Nearing three gave the Wildcats a 36-34 lead and Kellogg would not relinquish it the rest of the way.
As the final frame began, Kellogg held a 44-41 lead, but they quickly put the game out of reach with an 8-0 run to begin the quarter.
Kellogg held off the Miners the rest of the way despite a valiant late effort from Wallace, who suffered just their second loss of the season.
“We didn’t give up, we fought until the end,” Wallace coach Corey Miller said. “We kept attacking, kept trying to whittle away at their lead. It was an incredibly physical game both ways, that definitely benefits Kellogg. We just don’t have that kind of depth.”
Kellogg junior Gavin Luna played his most dominant game of the season notching 12 points and 15 rebounds, which played to the Wildcats’ physical presence.
“I’m not sure how many points he finished with, but he’s the one who really beat us,” Miller said. “He had a few putbacks, but how many rebounds, how many offensive rebounds. When we played them before they would get one shot and we’d get the rebound, tonight they were getting two, three, fours shots at a time and when you get that many eventually one’s going to go in.”
Kellogg coach Jeff Nearing saw a lot that he was happy with and then some stuff that he didn’t like.
“We made some silly mistakes,” Nearing said. “Up by 14 with two minutes to go and we’re still rifling 50-foot passes? We need to figure out how to play with a lead. We haven’t had a bunch of experience doing that this year so this was new to these guys.”
Nearing thought the balanced attack his team brought really made the difference, but also was very pleased with how his posts (combined 23 points and 20+ rebounds between three players) effectively were the difference makers throughout the game.
Led by Graden Nearing’s 16 points, along with Luna’s 12, the Wildcats had three players with eight points, and two with seven.
Wallace was led in scoring by Erik Brackebusch who finished with 18 points, while Triston Neubauer chipped in 13.
Kellogg will now move on to an Intermountain League rematch with Bonners Ferry on Thursday night at Kellogg High School, meanwhile Wallace will travel to Clark Fork on Wednesday night.