River Falls boys basketball head coach Zac Campbell thought the rivalry game on the road against Hudson on Saturday, Feb. 4 was likely going to be a race to 40 points – and he was correct. …
River Falls boys basketball head coach Zac Campbell thought the rivalry game on the road against Hudson on Saturday, Feb. 4 was likely going to be a race to 40 points – and he was correct.
Hudson’s stifling defense forced River Falls into unsuccessful one-on-one matchups and limited the Wildcats to just 37 total points on 47% shooting from the floor. The Raiders won the race to 40 points and secured a 4537 victory over River Falls, which completed the two-game season sweep of the Wildcats.
“We told our guys that it was going to be this kind of game,” Campbell said. “These are the two best defensive teams in the league. We knew we had to get downhill and win one-on-ones, but we just couldn’t get past them. It wasn’t for a lack of purpose or effort, we just didn’t win those one-on-one matchups.”
Despite competing in a hostile road environment, River Falls built a five-point lead, 9-4, through the opening four minutes of the game. Sophomore forward Eli Johnson tallied five of those points, three of which came off a three-point play the old-fashioned way.
Hudson’s offense got hot and closed the gap a couple of minutes later when senior guard Benjamin Berkhof buried a wing three-pointer that tied the game 11-11 with just over 10 minutes to play in the first half.
After River Falls junior forward Jonah Severson made a layup on the ensuing possession to reclaim a 13-11 lead, Hudson’s offense exploded. The Raiders proceeded to go on a 17-0 scoring run throughout the next nine minutes that culminated in a 28-15 lead with just over a minute to play in the first half.
While Hudson’s run included a trio of three-pointers by three different Raiders, their defense was their best offense. They limited River Falls to one shot regularly, got out in transition, and forced the Wildcats to make mistakes.
In a game where River Falls desperately needed a player who could win downhill oneon- one matchups, the Wildcats were without sophomore guard Preston Johnson, who suffered an ankle injury in practice on Jan. 19 and is unlikely to return at any point the rest of this year.
Johnson had served as the team’s primary ball handler through the first two months of the season and was unequivocally River Falls’ best downhill scoring threat. Prior to his injury, Johnson’s 12 points per game made him River Falls’ second-leading scorer for the 2022-23 season, trailing only junior guard Joey Butz’s 15.3 per contest.
While coach Campbell wouldn’t say if having Preston Johnson would have changed the outcome of the game against Hudson, he did speak about the ripple effect of not having him in the lineup.
“Preston is our downhill threat and I’m not saying this game is different with him, but down the stretch when we’re running scramble offense, we couldn’t beat them in one-on-ones,” Campbell said. “It didn’t matter what action we ran. Every single guy on their team can defend. We just couldn’t sink their defense.”
Not being able to sink the defense led to contested perimeter jumpers throughout the second half. Hudson’s tight man-to-man defense held River Falls to 2-11 shooting from beyond the three-point line.
Despite the Raiders’ exceptional defensive effort, River Falls found ways to get some stops and score in the paint, which led to some small scoring runs. That effort eventually cut Hudson’s lead to only three points, 35-32, with five minutes left in regulation. That’s when Hudson senior guard Ben Healy took control of the game.
Healy got the action started with a slashing layup at the rim to extend the lead to five points. On the ensuing possession, he absorbed contact and made another layup to make it a 39-32 advantage favoring the Raiders.
After River Falls sophomore Eli Johnson scored with a post move on the other end, Healy again attacked the rack and made another acrobatic layup that gave Hudson a 4134 lead. Healy’s electric closing stretch of regulation put the game out of reach and led to the Wildcats’ 45-37 defeat in the rivalry game.
Although the loss certainly stings for River Falls, there were several bright spots throughout the game, including junior Hayden Bottolfson’s play off the bench. Bottolfson finished as River Falls’ second-leading scorer with eight points on the night, which included a big three-pointer late in the second half that helped get the Wildcats back into the game.
“Hayden has really played well down the stretch for us,” Campbell said. “When we see teams with some thickness and size without Preston (Johnson) we’ve needed to go that direction and he’s answered it well. He’s a bigger body that we can put out there to stretch the floor. We’ve built our faith in him.”
With the win, Hudson improved to 14-4 overall and 10-1 in Big Rivers Conference games while River Falls dropped to 13-6 overall and 6-5 in league play. The Wildcats have several tough games to end the season, including contests against Rice Lake, Prescott and Mahtomedi. Coach Campbell spoke about the upcoming gauntlet of games.
“This is how you want to build into the playoffs,” Campbell said. “Going into the playoffs playing weak games and padding stats will hurt you in the long-term. We’re going to see some teams that are pretty good, but it’s going to be good for our guys to learn.”
River Falls is back in action at home against Rice Lake on Friday, Feb. 10. Tip-off for that game is slated for 7:15 p.m.