To survive another round, North Tama coach Brandon Clubb knows his team can't afford another slow start.
Not against a team as balanced and tournament tested as Boyden-Hull.
The sixth-ranked Redhawks (26-1) were back to practice Tuesday afternoon at Johnston with free throws at the top of the list of things to fine-tune for Thursday's Class 1A Iowa Boys High School State Basketball Tournament semifinal game against the fourth-ranked Comets.
T-R file photo
North Tama senior guard Jacob Wrage, center, battles two Ankeny Christian Academy players for possession during the Redhawks’ 47-45 win Monday in the first round of the Iowa Boys State Basketball Tournament. The Redhawks will play the defending champions Boyden-Hull in the semifinals at 12:15 p.m. Thursday.
Tip-off is set for 12:15 p.m. with the winner advancing to play the victor of top-ranked Danville (26-0) vs. No. 2 St. Mary's, Storm Lake (25-1) in the state championship Friday at 6:05 p.m.
"We can't play for two quarters (like we did Monday) and expect to win Thursday. There's just no way that that's going to happen," said Clubb in a phone interview Tuesday afternoon. "We were lucky enough to get by Monday doing that. You don't play that way two quarters and win a game at state, so we'll have to be much more consistent and come out strong right away. Hopefully our kids respond having already played a game down there and getting that out of our system."
Boyden-Hull (23-3), the defending Class 1A state champion, rides a 12-game win streak into Thursday's contest after defeating fifth-rated Lone Tree 58-54 Monday.
Wielding a versatile attack that has four players averaging between 11.9 and 13.7 points per game, Clubb knows his squad will have their hands full with the Comets.
"They're extremely balanced," said Clubb. "They're a great passing team and very fundamentally sound at rebounding. They don't get too fancy. They run simple sets and do those extremely well."
Simplicity has bred a long line of success for Boyden-Hull, which hasn't lost to a Class 1A team since 2011 and is making its 13th trip to the semifinals in its 16th state tournament appearance.
Junior Riley Francis leads the Comets at 13.7 points per game, while seniors Brandt Van Roekel (12.3 ppg, 8.9 rpg), JC Koerselman (12.1 ppg), Colin Bolkema (11.9 ppg) and Miguel Alvarado (5.9 ppg) round out the starting five. Bolkema, Van Roekel and Alvarado all played significant minutes in last year's championship game victory over Danville, while Francis and Koerselman also saw the floor.
Like the Eagles, the Comets have some dangerous outside threats with Francis (51 3-pointers, 42.9 percent), Alvarado (32 3-pointers, 41.6 percent) and Bolkema (32 3-pointers, 29.6 percent).
Clubb had a difficult time coming up with a comparable opponent the Redhawks have faced this season, though Hudson may be the closest. North Tama defeated the Pirates 59-55 in Hudson Jan. 17.
All three of Boyden-Hull's losses came against Class 3A competition including two against state semifinalist MOC-Floyd Valley (21-4), and the other against Sioux Center (15-9).
Less than 24 hours removed from the program's first state tournament win, the Redhawks were back in the gym Tuesday building off the momentum of their second half performance. Extra reps from the charity stripe were "the No. 1 thing" according to Clubb after a 14-for-32 outing against Ankeny Christian Academy in the first round Monday.
"We've also been focused on working the ball inside, taking some better shots and getting in better rhythm offensively," Clubb said. "Those are some things we started to do a better job of in the second half Monday."
Though despite any of Monday's highs or lows, Clubb has preached an even-keel, one-game-at-a-time message to his club.
"Regardless of the outcome of the game, we have to move on," Clubb said. "We can't worry about how we played or what we did or didn't do. It's survive and advance and we've just been preaching that to our kids. We'll get a gameplan ready and try to execute it for Thursday."
Staying in Des Moines Monday night due to inclement weather, the Redhawks have been able to channel their focus on the task at hand.
"The kids have responded very well staying down here," said Clubb, whose squad visited the Iowa Hall of Pride Tuesday and will remain in the Des Moines area for as long as their season takes them. "It actually has been good for us and keeps us focused on what we're down here to do."
Regardless of where their postseason ride takes them next, the Redhawks will no doubt be welcomed back to Traer and their own halls filled with prideful North Tama fans.
Thursday's game features two coach-son duos. North Tama assistant coach Kurt Boerm played for Garwin against Palmer's Bill Francis, who is now the Boyden-Hull head coach, in the 1983 Class 1A State Championship game. Palmer won 61-55, though both players were named to the all-state tournament team. Kurt's son, Mitchell Boerm, leads the Redhawks at 15.0 ppg, while Francis' son, Riley, guides the Comets' attack with 13.7 ppg. ... Thursday's other Class 1A semifinal at 10:30 a.m. pits the top two ranked teams in the state led by two of the most dynamic tandems. Top-ranked Danville is led by twin senior brothers Steven Soukup (27.7 ppg) and Michael Soukup (19.5 ppg). The Bears are the top-scoring team in Class 1A at 83.2 points per game. ... No. 2 rated St. Mary's, Storm Lake has its own 1-2 senior punch in Luke Lenhart (24.7 ppg) and Kennedy Drey (23.3 ppg). The Panthers can also score in bunches and trail only Danville in Class 1A at 74.0 points per game.