Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski senior Nathan Carstens drives along the baseline against Barrow defender Kekoa Ahgeak in Thursday's Class 3A boys state quarterfinal at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski senior Nathan Carstens drives along the baseline against Barrow defender Kekoa Ahgeak in Thursday's Class 3A boys state quarterfinal at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Barrow boys overcome Nikiski’s tough defense

The Nikiski boys pulled out all the stops Thursday in a Class 3A state tournament quarterfinal, but the powerful Barrow Whalers proved to be too much to handle.

Nikiski lost 48-31 to Barrow, the tournament’s top seed, at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage. The loss means the Bulldogs will face Delta Junction today at 11:45 a.m. in the fourth-place semifinals.

Leading the Barrow charge was the one-two punch of Kamaka Hepa and Travis Adams. Hepa, the 6-foot-7 Class 3A Boys Player of the Year, poured in 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds, while Adams had 17 points and five steals. The duo also combined to hit 11 of 14 foul shots.

“We knew there would be some adversity, and we hope our kids would overcome that,” said Barrow coach Jeremy Arnhardt.

The Bulldogs offered a very balanced offensive effort, with senior guard Hunter Holloway leading the way with eight points, while fellow seniors Sam Tauriainen, Nathan Carstens and Javon Pamplin shared the glass with five rebounds apiece.

But the story of the game for Nikiski was their trademark in-your-face defense, which challenged the Whalers all game long. The Bulldogs kept Barrow’s lead to single digits through most of the third quarter. It was not until Barrow scored eight straight points early in the fourth quarter that the victory seemed headed toward the Whalers.

“I am super proud of them,” said Nikiski head coach Reid Kornstad. “In the face of what we were doing offensively, with our shooting, they did awesome.”

Whether it was Carstens guarding Adams, or Luke Johnson on Hepa, the Bulldogs pushed the No. 1 Whalers to the edge and held their own in what they hoped was to be a classic March Madness upset.

“We had a goal this week, and it was playing fearlessly for each other,” Kornstad said. “We did the job defensively.”

Nikiski held Barrow to just 11 first-quarter points and 21 in the half, but suffered poor shooting on offense with 19 percent efficiency in the first half. Still, the Bulldogs managed to stay within 10 points of Barrow at halftime.

Coaching his squad from the sidelines, Arnhardt felt the pressure as well.

“They’re a very physical team, they’ll definitely bang you around,” said Arnhardt. “They bring the physicality.”

A corner 3 from Carstens on the opening possession of the second half closed Barrow’s lead to seven points, and another trey by Tauriainen with 6:18 left in the third quarter cut the lead to 22-17.

Another Nikiski triple, this time from Holloway standing in the corner, left Barrow holding a six-point advantage.

“I thought, ‘Great, here we go!’”, Kornstad recalled. “But they were tougher than I expected.”

For every Nikiski bucket, Barrow managed to answer. Hepa forced a turnover and delivered the dish to Adams for a transition layup, and Hepa laid in a bucket of his own with 2:42 left in the third and received the foul call. The ensuing free throw resulted in a 33-20 Barrow lead.

Making matters worse for Nikiski was Luke Johnson receiving his fourth foul early in the third quarter, forcing him to the bench.

A trey from the top of the arc by Cade Anderson cut the deficit down to 33-25 for Nikiski, but that would be the closest the Bulldogs got the rest of the game.

Barrow got some well-timed buckets from Adams and Sione Tuifua early in the fourth quarter, and a corner 3-pointer by Hepa with 5:30 to play proved to be the dagger, pushing the lead to 43-25.

A victory over Delta would move Nikiski into Saturday’s fourth-place contest.

“(Friday) we’re fighting to play together one more time,” Kornstad said. “We’d like to continue the awesome season.”

In Thursday’s other 3A boys quarterfinals, Monroe Catholic defeated Bethel 56-46, and ACS topped Delta Junction 71-65. Sitka and Grace Christian played in the late game.

 

Thursday boys

Whalers 48, Bulldogs 31

Barrow 11 10 16 11 —48

Nikiski 6 5 14 6 —31

NIKISKI (31) — I. Johnson 1 0-0 2, Anderson 2 0-0 5, L. Johnson 0 2-2 2, Kornstad 0 0-0 0, Holloway 3 0-1 8, Tauriainen 2 1-4 7, Carstens 2 0-0 5, Pamplin 1 0-0 2. Totals 11 3-7 31.

BARROW (48) — Goodwin 2 0-0 4, Thomas 0 0-0 0, Adams 5 7-9 17, Elavgak 0 0-0 0, Unutoa 0 0-0 0, Tuifua 2 0-0 4, Matthews 1 0-0 2, Ahgeak 0 0-0 0, Hepa 6 4-5 19, Snow 1 0-0 2. Totals 17 11-14 48.

3-point goals — Nikiski 6 (Tauriainen 2, Holloway 2, Anderson 1, Carstens 1); Barrow 3 (Hepa 3).

Team fouls — Nikiski 18; Barrow 11. Fouled out — none.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski guard Jace Kornstad puts up a 3-point shot against Barrow in Thursday's Class 3A boys state quarterfinal at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski guard Jace Kornstad puts up a 3-point shot against Barrow in Thursday’s Class 3A boys state quarterfinal at the Alaska Airlines Center in Anchorage.

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