Bangor opens state tourney run against Columbus Catholic
When Bangor hits the hardwood for its Friday-morning state semifinal with Marshfield Columbus Catholic at the Kohl Center in Madison, it will be like looking in a mirror.
Like the defending Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association Division 5 state champion Cardinals, Columbus likes to push the limit on offense.
Both teams thrive on an up-tempo game.
Bangor (25-1) enters the semifinal averaging 71.4 points per game on offense, while Columbus (25-2) averages nearly 76 points per game.
“They have four guys who average in double figures. They are a balanced-scoring attack team that likes to get up and down the floor quickly. They’re like us in that aspect,” said Bangor first-year coach Jacob Pederson.
Bryce Fuerlinger, a 6’-4” senior post player, leads Columbus in scoring with 16.5 points per game, while 6’-1” senior guard Noah Taylor is knocking down 15.8 points per game.
Seniors Jarred Mandel (6’-3”) and Ethan Meece (6’-2”) are right behind he team leaders, scoring 14.6 and 13.1 points per game, respectively.
“They’re not afraid to attack the basket, but at the same time, they’ve got some shooters outside. Meece and Mandel probably lead the way for them as far as three-point shooting goes,” added Pederson.
Pederson said Bangor will need to stop the Dons from penetrating on offense.
“Defensively, we have to keep them from getting inside the paint. When they get inside the lane, they’re very effective,” offered Pederson. “Their offense really runs through getting penetration inside, and we have to keep them from getting second chance points on offensive rebounds.”
Fuerlinger, who’s averaging 13.3 rebounds per game, is the guy to watch on the glass.
“He’s an athletic, inside-the-paint player,” said Pederson. “Watching film, he seems to get half of his points on offensive rebounds.”
Bangor has done a nice job keeping opponents off the offensive glass in the post-season, and Pederson said that needs to continue for the Cards in Madison this weekend.
“Against Southwestern (in the Division 5 sectional final), we did a pretty good job. They got quite a few offensive boards, but they came after second, third and fourth chances, so they didn’t hurt as much,” he said.
“Against Blair-Taylor (in the Division 5 sectional semifinal), we did a phenomenal job. We had 22 offensive boards and they had eight or nine,” he continued. “In the first three regional games, we did a great job limiting opponents on the offensive boards as well. We need to carry that over this weekend.”
Columbus finished first in the tough Cloverbelt East Conference with perfect 16-0 league record.
The Dons cruised through regional and sectional play as well, posting double-digit victories in all five of their playoff games.
The only two losses for Columbus this season came in nonconference contests – a 72-60 loss at Marathon in early January and an 80-64 loss to Cloverbelt West champion and Division 4 state qualifier Osseo-Fairchild in a Cloverbelt crossover game at Neillsville on Feb. 23.
Columbus has recorded 948 rebounds, 172 three-pointers and 287 steals in 27 games this season.
Bangor will counter the Dons’ potent offense with 6’-5” junior Grant Manke in the post and senior playmaker Trevor Jones on the perimeter, along with versatile sophomore guards Zane Langrehr and Hank Reader.
Manke is averaging 23.6 points and 13.6 rebounds per game, while Langrehr and Reader are scoring 12.5 and 10.8 points per games, respectively.
Jones’ ability to penetrate opposing defenses is the key to the Cardinal offense, and he’s Bangor’s second-leading rebounder, grabbing nearly five boards per game.
Senior guard Jaymeson Freit leads the Cards in assists with 4.4 per game, while Reader is right behind with 3.7 assists per game.
Bangor has recorded 932 rebounds, 137 three-pointers, 223 steals and 400 assists in 26 games this season.
“Offensively, we have to play like we have been playing. We have to be unselfish and attack them, so we can dump the ball off to Grant down low or get an outside shot if they converge on defense,” Pederson offered. “If we can penetrate, we’ll be in good shape.”
The Dons like to mix it up defensively, playing some 2-3 zone, as well as man-to-man.
“I think we’ll see a 2-3 at first, then maybe some man-to-man,” predicted Peterson.
While Langrehr and Reader saw some varsity playing time last season, Manke and Jones are the only two Cardinals to get extensive playing time during last year’s state title run.
Pederson believes their experience on the big court at the Kohl Center will benefit Bangor this weekend.
“Having a couple of guys with experience down there will definitely help. I’d like to think that last year’s experience will be a benefit to us, but we’ve got to go out there and play our game,” he said.
“They’ve been captains and leaders, and they’re letting (teammates) know what the experience is like,” Pederson added. “The nice thing this year is that there’s a game before us, so we can get there and get into the locker room. Hopefully, it won’t be too much all at once for the guys.”
Pederson is confident his team can contend at state again this season if the Cardinals continue to do things they’ve been doing them all season.
“We preach all year that we need to communicated on defense, work as a team on both ends of the floor and not play outside of ourselves,” he offered. “If we can do the things we’ve been doing all year, I feel we can compete with any of the three Division 5 teams down there this weekend.”
Tip-off for Friday’s Division 5 state semifinal between Bangor and Columbus is slated for 10:45 a.m. at the Kohl Center in Madison.