The invading O’Neill girls and boys basketball teams left Neligh with two big wins over the Warriors Monday evening.
The Lady Eagles soared to a 69-41 triumph over N-O.
“We took care of business,” stated O’Neill girls coach Brock Eichelberger. “I’m happy with the overall effort. All of our girls got in and a couple of younger girls stepped up and knocked down some shots at the end. We saw a lot of good things tonight.”
After a pair of Paige Furstenau free throws cut the deficit to 12-9 late in the first quarter, the Lady Eagles used a 21-9 run to end the half with a 33-18 advantage.
O'Neill cashed in on its opportunities in the first half, turning 16 Lady Warrior turnovers into 20 points.
“We knew if we kept pressing, pushing the issue and trying to run out they were going to sooner or later get tired,” coach Eichelberger said. “We wore them out in the end and we had a lot of easy opportunities because they were gassed.”
The Lady Eagles pulled away in the second half with a 36-23 run.
“The effort was there,” commented N-O girls mentor Christy Knutson. “They were a fast team and a good shooting team. We’ve played a lot of games in a short amount of time and our legs were not there. We have to be mentally prepared for every game and I felt like when we get frustrated, we stop. Getting through adversity will be a big key moving forward.”
O'Neill scored 36 points off of turnovers and put back 19 second-chance points, to improve to 9-4.
“We told them we have to be active, we have to move, make ourselves hard to defend, hard to guard and hard to box out,” coach Eichelberger noted. “I thought in the second half we were a little fresher than them and we got a lot of those second-chance opportunities.”
Seven Lady Eagles netted at least 5 points in the win. Meg Schluns led the way with 13 points and five rebounds. Claire Morrow netted 13 points, Alyssa Eichelberger contributed 11 points, four boards, two assists and six steals, Lauren Young accounted for 8 points, five rebounds and three steals, Blair Gutshall had 8 points, four boards and two take aways, while Zelie Sorensen and Brianna Bauer each added 5 points.
After a slow start Furstenau paced N-O (4-11) with 16 points. Brooke Frey accumulated 13 points, Haley Kerkman tallied 7 points, Claire Whitesel pitched in 3 points and Trinity Kurpgeweit notched 2 points.
“We knew coming in, Furstenau was averaging 16 points a game and Frey showed her shooting capability at the end,” coach Eichelberger said. “We did a good job in our man (defense). We had good defensive possessions, created some turnovers and made it hectic for them where they were uncomfortable.”
In the boys contest, a second-half rally guided O’Neill past N-O, 46-42.
“Neligh is a really good team,” remarked O’Neill boys coach Seth Kallhoff. “That’s a good, tough team and we’re going to continue to face tough teams like that all year round. That’s how you get better. To beat a team like this, it can build momentum. Our guys really wanted this one and really needed this one to get our energy back up.”
Monday’s loss marked the first time the Warriors dropped a home game this season.
“It is tough, especially knowing we did most everything we needed to do defensively to put ourselves in a position to win,” said N-O boys coach Ethan Larsen. “Tonight it was our execution on offense that was the the difference in the game between us and them.”
A sloppy first half by the Warriors kept O'Neill in the game in the first half. N-O turned the ball over eight times in the first 16 minutes of play.
With under a second remaining in the first quarter, Eagle senior Francisco Perez drilled a 3-pointer at the buzzer to cut N-O's lead to 1.
Clutch triples by Hunter Charf and Cole Belitz gave the home squad a 25-20 advantage at the half.
The comeback was on for the Eagles. Thanks to a 12-2 run to start the third, O'Neill turned a 5-point deficit into a 5-point lead.
“We didn’t spend a lot of time talking at halftime because I wanted them to rebound and come out with good, positive energy,” Kallhoff spoke. “I didn’t try to overload them with anything earth-shattering. We drew up a couple of plays that we thought would be effective against them. We went back out there with confidence and ran through what we needed to do offensively.”
A Beau Murray trifecta cut the deficit to 2 late in the third, but the Eagles responded with a 9-4 run to extend their lead to 41-34.
It was the Warriors (8-6) turn to rally. Belitz netted a trey with eight tics remaining to cut the lead to 44-42.
After a O'Neill (4-8) turnover, N-O had a chance to tie or take the lead. But the Warriors threw the ball away and Keegan Moore drained two freebies to ice the game.
“Although it was a turnover in the end, we had eight turnovers in the first half and two in the second,” Larsen recalled. “That last one came at an inopportune time, but it wasn’t that play that was the difference in the game. There were a lot of plays in both halves where we didn’t do a good job looking inside. We shot 28 shots from outside the arc, and only 20 inside. That’s the story of the game today.”
Isaac Kurpgeweit recorded a double-double with 13 points and 16 rebounds. Belitz contributed 17 points, six boards, three assists and two steals, Austin Rice had 6 points and five rebounds, Charf accounted for 3 points and six boards and Murray added 3 points.
For the Eagles, Perez led all scorers with 21 points, Moore tallied 11 points and Dennis Hererra pitched in 8 points.
O’Neill hosts Wagner (SD) Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s going to be a busy January,” coach Eichelberger commented. “We’re in the meat of our schedule and we’re excited with the direction we are going. Some of our younger girls are growing up and starting to show some maturity. We are playing the way we thought we could and I’m excited to see where we are going.”
Neligh-Oakdale travels to Orchard to take on county foe Clearwater/Orchard Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.
“They’ve had a little more rest than we have,” Larsen concluded. “We’ve played a lot of basketball and that has given us a lot of opportunities to see what we have in front of us and to be ready for any opponent that shows up. They have a nice record and are playing decent basketball. We’ll have our hands full, but I like our guys and I trust them going forward.”