Now they count
Ryan boys basketball notebook: Evaluating non-regional play
This is what the early part of the season is for.
The Bishop Ryan boys basketball team began the year with expectations higher than ever. After falling short of the Class B state title the past two seasons in heartbreaking fashion, the Lions returned this time around as the top-ranked team in the state.
And they held that spot for good reason.
Led by arguably the best duo in the state, Minot State commits Ben Bohl and Mason Hedberg have proven to be virtually unguardable thus far. But, despite having this experienced one-two senior punch, Ryan’s youth has showed in the early going.
The Lions enter regional play with a record of 4-2 record – good for the 10th in the most recent media rankings. Although Ryan no longer holds the top spot in the state, the team is still very much poised for a title run as it prepares for regional play, which begins Thursday with a road match against the TGU Titans at 7:15 p.m.
Here are some takeaways from Ryan’s six non-regional games to start the season.
Facing the giants
Ryan has understandably had its struggles against its fellow state heavyweight contemporaries. The Lions faced off with two top-10 teams in the early going of the season and walked away with an 0-2 record.
The first loss came on Dec. 15, 2018, when Ryan fell to then-seventh-ranked Shiloh Christian on the road by a score of 71-55.
The Skyhawks found repeated success with their big men, mostly by feeding the ball to junior Jaden Mitzel. The bulky 6-foot-2 forward overpowered the Lions’ defense in the paint and showed off his range as well to finish with a team-high 20 points.
Also finding success was 6-foot-9 center Macauley Young, who towered above his defenders and showed off an array of post moves in the victory.
Ryan faced another giant last Saturday when it took on Hayden Overby and the top-ranked Thompson Tommies.
Much like Mitzel and Young, the 6-foot-6 forward was a matchup nightmare with his strong presence in the paint and the ability to stretch the floor.
Overby totaled a game-high 33 points in the 73-57 win. In addition to scoring 23 of those points in the paint and at the free throw line, Overby also drained a pair of threes and two mid-range jumpers.
Fortunately for the Lions, these losses are coming early in the year, giving the team plenty of time to work out its kinks before the postseason.
As proven by the pair of top-10 matchups, the Lions have certainly been tested so far this season.
Although games against Shiloh Christian and Thompson got away from Ryan, the team has shown an ability to win tightly-contested contests in some of its other matches.
The first example came on Dec. 11, when the Lions squeezed past Beulah for a 42-39 victory. Trailing by two points on the road entering the fourth quarter, Ryan still managed to walk out of Beulah with a hard-earned win.
Another example came on Dec. 21, when Ryan fended off a resilient Dunseith squad at home for a 72-65 victory.
Holding an eight-point lead entering the fourth quarter, the Lions withstood a 16-point quarter by Dunseith’s Treagan Azure thanks to some clutch shooting by Bohl and Hedberg. The duo combined for Ryan’s last eight points to help finally put away the Dragons.
Consistency is certainly the key for the Lions moving forward, but it’s an encouraging sight to see the team display that level of composure so early in the year.
Bohl and Hedberg can’t be the only players producing for Ryan.
Fortunately for the Lions, that isn’t the case. The duo is aided by another senior, Chinaza Udekwe, who has thrived as the third-leading scorer on the team.
The 6-foot guard is the team’s secret weapon, creating his own shot when Bohl and Hedberg receive extra attention from the opposing defense. Udekwe’s strongest showing came against the Dragons, where he exploded for a season-high 20 points.
The Lions’ fourth scoring option is more of a revolving carousel. Whether it’s sophomore Jaxon Feller’s eight-point performance against Hazen on Dec. 7 or senior Rubensky Lormejuste’s seven-point outing against Kenmare on Dec. 18, the team is still searching for a consistent rotational contributor.
Regardless, Ryan has proven in this small sample size that it has players capable of easing the burden of its primary scorers, and it’ll need that trend to continue heading into regional play.
With non-regional play now over, every game counts.
The Lions will look to build off the experience they gathered from their first six games of the season as they prepare to take on a number of formidable foes.
No. 4-ranked Rugby, Velva, Des Lacs-Burlington and many other Region 6 contenders now stand in Ryan’s way of its third straight trip to the state tournament. The road starts with TGU and will end with one Region 6 team playing at the Minot State Dome in March.
Justin Martinez covers Minot High School sports and Class B high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @JTheSportsDude.