A huge first quarter from Rhinelander’s Colton Volkmann helped the Hodags jump out to an early lead Monday night against Lakeland, and Rhinelander held that lead for the entirety of the game on the way to a 61-42 Great Northern Conference victory.
“I didn’t think we matched their intensity from the outset,” Lakeland head coach Rich Fortier said. “I thought, initially, we weren’t that great. We tried to compete but they’re a little bit bigger and a little bit better in some areas, and we just got back on our heels a little bit.”
Rhinelander jumped out to a 20-13 lead in the first quarter, thanks to 12 points from Volkmann.
“They made a lot of shots early, and got a lot of second chance points,” Fortier said. “Their first seven points were on [offensive] boards, we just gave it up from the start and couldn’t compete on the rebounds with them.”
The second chance points were what really hurt the Thunderbirds, as Lakeland gave the Hodags extra opportunities to score.
“I don’t know how many they had, and in fact, I’m not even going to calculate it because I’m going to be sickened as I watch that,” Fortier said. “There were a ton of second chance points, and that would be typical of a team that has a lot of size like that.”
Rhinelander pushed the lead to 37-20 by the end of the first half, which included a 17-point performance from Volkmann in the opening 16 minutes.
Lakeland came out stronger in the second half, and held Rhinelander scoreless for nearly five minutes to open the half. The Hodags’ own defense continued to show up in the third quarter, as well, and limited Lakeland to four points during that five-minute stretch.
“Their defense was stout enough that we just couldn’t do anything against it for those first five minutes of the third quarter where I thought, at least defensively, we were playing pretty well,” Fortier said.
Lakeland had several opportunities to close the gap, but wasn’t able to capitalize on those
“We had a lot of shots, a lot of turnovers, but we just couldn’t take advantage of things in that first five minutes of the third quarter,” Fortier said. “I thought we had some chances to cut that to an eight- or nine-point lead, and instead, they hit one three and it was right back to 15 points like nothing had happened.”
The third quarter ended 46-32 in favor of Rhinelander, and the Hodags held on for the 61-42 victory over Lakeland.
Tom Bruckner led the Thunderbirds with 17 points, nine rebounds, and a pair of assists. Brad Holcombe added seven points and three assists.
Andrew McGill scored four points and picked up two rebounds, Jack Melms, Ross Koester and Tavian Doud each added three points, Joey Jirikowic and Levi Herrick scored two apiece, and Dennis Wildcat added a free throw.
After Volkmann’s first-half outburst, Lakeland shut him down and held him scoreless in the second half. Volkmann finished with 17 points, while Kent Mathews led Rhinelander with 18 points and Mitch Reinthaler added 13.
“I thought we really did some nice things in the third quarter,” Fortier said. “I thought we shut [Volkmann] down after that and really played him much tougher in the second half, but, of course, the damage had been done.”
As Fortier said, the lead was built in the first half, and just needed to be maintained for Rhinelander to close out the game.
“When you make a run like that and build a lead the way they did, you play with that lead from there on out,” Fortier said. “They’re solid enough with their guard play and they’re dang-good enough with their big men that you just can’t chip into a lead like that.”
Lakeland also struggled with turnovers, committing 18 on the night. Lakeland turned the ball over just once in the third quarter when they began to turn things around.
“They were better than us tonight, that’s obvious,” Fortier said. “I thought we competed better in the second half, as evidenced by our score.”
Lakeland saw a boost from Wildcat, who earned a start against Rhinelander. While Wildcat scored just one point, he pulled down a pair of boards and added an assist and three steals, and played strong defensively for Lakeland.
“He provides a spark for us, he does little things well, and he’s a nice player for us,” Fortier said. “He’s an energy guy that I like to use off of the bench, but I also think he’s got to be on the floor more for us so therefore his minutes have gone up.”
Though Lakeland certainly didn’t play its best game of the season, Fortier said Rhinelander deserved the credit for coming out and playing a complete game.
“Give credit to Rhinelander. They were better than us tonight, and maybe they’re better than us, period,” Fortier said. “That doesn’t mean that we’re going to concede any victory ever to them, but tonight they were better than us.”
The Thunderbirds will get another crack at Rhinelander on their home court Tuesday, Feb. 11.
“We’ll be better, I’m certain we’ll be better. But we have to match their intensity from the start,” Fortier said.
With the first half of the conference schedule complete, Lakeland next took on Ashland on the road Thursday night, in the reschedule of a game postponed due to weather. The Thunderbirds will travel to Eagle River to face Northland Pines tonight.
Last night’s game at Ashland ended after press time, see Tuesday’s Lakeland Times for a full recap from the Ashland and Northland Pines games.
Fortier said that while the team is not where he wants them to be at this point in the season, he is not counting them out as contenders down the stretch.
“Teams that gel in the middle of January don’t normally end up real great by the end of February, and we have not gelled yet, we have not found our right combinations, we have not found what I wanted, and we have not hit our stride,” Fortier said. “Yet, we’re doing OK, and we’re hanging in there.”
Jim Oxley may be reached via email at email@example.com.