Photo: Rustlers guard, Nathaniel Kerr flies by the Eagles’ defender to score one of his baskets on the weekend. With two players in foul trouble, Kerr played key minutes late in the game for the Rustlers, who swept the Eagles this past weekend. - Robb Fenton Photo
By Robb Fenton
With everything that has gone on in the past few weeks with the Lakeland Rustlers men’s basketball team, two wins couldn’t have come at a better time.
The Rustlers, after switching head coaches and losing one of their top players, came out of this past weekend with two key wins against the King’s Eagles; Friday at home 80-75 and Saturday on the road, winning 90-68.
“We came out on fire and played a tremendous first quarter. Unfortunately, maybe we played too good because we relaxed in the second quarter and we let them back in the game,” interim head coach Eric Bloch Hansen said. “Overall, the defensive intensity was good. We lost two starters to fouls, the guys off the bench did an excellent job and we got the win.”
While he refused to use it as an excuse for any lackluster play, Bloch Hansen admitted there were some distractions around the team and to see them step up like they did was huge.
“It was nice. After what we’ve been through as a team the last couple weeks it’s awful nice to see them reach down, come back and play hard and they did. I’m very pleased,” he said.
The start was a huge statement for the Rustlers who ended up leading after the first quarter, 26-13.
Both Bloch Hansen and the game’s leading scorer, Troy Barnes, felt the start was very important.
“It was real big. We need to come out of the gates firing and we did and that carried us through,” Bloch Hansen said.
“That (the start) was real important. It showed us we are better than this team and when it comes down to crunch time we can get the ball to the right people and good things will happen,” Barnes added.
After losing four straight and the changes to the team, Barnes said this win sends not only a message to the league, but also to the players on the team that they still belong near the top of the league.
“It’s really good. It takes a lot of weight off of our shoulders. We showed people we can still do it even with all the dilemmas that are going on,” Barnes said.
Tied at the end of the third quarter and down two early, the Rustlers turned it on and pulled away and didn’t trail for the last seven minutes of the game.
The depth was a big key to the win and Bloch Hansen was pleased to see players step up when they needed to.
Barnes, who put up 22 points, was one of five players to reach double digits and was joined by Tyler Orcutt, Nes Bratic, Colin LaPlante and Odane Parkinsin-Roberts.
“They are coming along very well. Brad Ettawacappo gave us some good minutes, Nanthaniel Kerr came off the bench and just played great for us,” he said. “They stepped us and played real big. Nathaniel and Doug Charlesworth were on the floor at the end of the game and that says a lot about my trust in their abilities.”
Barnes also noticed guys elevating their games and knows it will take an effort like the one they had this past weekend for the rest of the season.
“It’s really good because guys are coming off the bench with their heads in it, getting the job done,” Barnes said.
Next action for the Rustlers (6-4) closes out the first semester, as they battle the Concordia Thunder (7-3).
The teams travel to Edmonton Friday and head back to Lakeland Gym for Saturday’s rematch, with tip-off going at 8 p.m.