Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Luke Johnson plays defense on Monroe Catholic's Will Justice on Friday at Nikiski High School.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Luke Johnson plays defense on Monroe Catholic's Will Justice on Friday at Nikiski High School.

Nikiski basketball sweeps Monroe

Nikiski sophomore Ian Johnson laid in a game-winning bucket with seconds left to help the Nikiski boys topple the Monroe Catholic Rams in nonconference hoops action Friday night, but the layup proved to be much bigger on a statewide level.

Johnson’s go-ahead layup with eight seconds remaining clinched a 58-57 victory over Monroe, pushing Nikiski’s overall mark this season to 11-2 and helping to validate the team’s success this season.

In a coaches poll that was most recently updated Wednesday, Monroe was ranked second among all Class 3A boys teams, behind the Barrow Whalers. The Rams dropped to 8-2 overall with the loss.

“It was a big-game atmosphere, and that’s what Monroe brings,” said Nikiski coach Reid Kornstad.

Monroe built a dynasty by winning three straight 3A state titles from 2012 to 2014. Last year, the Rams lost to Barrow in the state final.

“They’re so well coached and have such class and are well respected, that they brought that energy to the gym,” Kornstad said. “I’m really thankful that they would come all this way to play us.”

Johnson’s final shot left him with 15 points for the night. Senior teammate Hunter Holloway also notched 15 points, including 12 in the first half, and senior Luke Johnson chipped in 12.

“I feel like we’re one of the top teams in the region,” Ian Johnson said. “We’ve struggled the last couple years, and I think this will finally show other people that we can play.”

In a game that exuded the feel of a heavyweight championship bout, the energy was set to high from the start and it never wavered.

“There’s never a break,” Johnson said. “We haven’t had a game like that this year.”

The game featured an array of momentum swings, and just when it seemed Nikiski would escape with a win in the final minutes, Monroe came roaring back.

The Bulldogs led 56-51 with 3:32 to go, but 6-foot-4 Rams sophomore Will Justice floated in a layup on the next possession to force a one-possession game. With 1:28 left, Divon Davis buried a 3-pointer from the top of the arc to tie things up at 56 apiece. The sophomore guard proved to be tricky all night, scoring a game-high 20 points.

Davis was fouled on a drive to the basket with 33 seconds to go to set up two free throws. Davis hit the first, but his second made attempt was called off for a lane violation. That penalty would come back to haunt Monroe.

On Nikiski’s ensuing possession, the Bulldogs searched hard for a decent shot attempt. A triple by senior guard Nathan Carstens bounced off the rim and was pulled in by Holloway, who drove the lane and dished the ball to Johnson at the post.

“My last shot had gone wrong, because I got stuffed, so I knew I had to redeem myself,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s layup rattled in for the one-point lead, and Monroe’s 3-point attempt at the other end fell short. The ensuing scene was pure, chaotic joy by the players and fans.

Kornstad said the final play that ended with Johnson hitting the layup was not designed as a specific sequence on the court, but he reinforced the idea of attacking the rim.

“We had enough time that it wasn’t so much a set play as much as it was a concept,” Kornstad said. “(Monroe) didn’t want to foul, so we tried to play from a big floor and attack, and I figured something good would present itself.”

One of the more surprising stats of the night was the zero points scored by Carstens, one of the leading scorers on the team. Although Carstens suffered a poor shooting night, his work on the defensive end more than made up for it. The senior guard knocked loose several turnovers for Nikiski, including one in the final minute that helped to set up the Bulldogs final possession.

Kornstad praised his team’s defensive effort by pointing out the success Nikiski had in grabbing rebounds and blocking out Monroe’s offense.

Earlier in the game, it was Holloway and Luke Johnson leading the way for Nikiski. Johnson scored the first three buckets for the Bulldogs, helping to keep pace with a fiery Monroe offense.

Then, it was Holloway who had the hot hand, hitting a pair of triples and scoring 12 straight points for Nikiski in a span of three minutes in the first and second quarters, including a huge 3 at the first-quarter buzzer.

A trey by Jace Kornstad with 5:50 left in the first half gave Nikiski a 27-23 lead, but Monroe outscored the home team 15-3 the rest of the way to take a 38-30 lead into halftime.

A quick 3-pointer by Ryan Brantley out of the halftime break extended Monroe’s lead to 11 points, but Nikiski answered with a 12-0 run that was capped by a triple by Sam Tauriainen, giving Nikiski the 42-41 lead.

Nikiski girls 35, Monroe 28

The Bulldogs began the evening with a tight victory in the girls game, giving the home team a nonconference sweep.

Freshman Kelsey Clark led Nikiski with 15 points, while junior Avery Kornstad chipped in nine, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with five minutes left that propelled the Bulldogs to the win. Kornstad added a second bucket late in the game and buried two free throws in the final seconds to seal it.

“I like the big crowds and the noise,” Kornstad said. “I like the high. Shooting is fun and making those shots is fun.”

The win was also important due to the introduction of the Winning Percentage Index to the Class 3A state tournament this season. The game was not a conference matchup, but since Monroe is a fellow 3A opponent, the ramifications could be huge come tournament time.

The win lifted Nikiski to 6-5 overall this season, while Monroe dropped to 2-8.

Nikiski broke a defensive lockdown in the second and third quarters, where the Bulldogs scored four points total, with a 15-point fourth quarter.

“I felt like emotionally and mentally, as a team, we fluctuate a little bit,” Kornstad said.

After the Bulldogs opened up a 16-4 lead in the first quarter, including the first 11 points by freshmen, the Rams fought back with four straight buckets by junior Savannah Mapp. Mapp led Monroe with 16 points for the game. The Bulldogs had their lead cut to 18-12 by halftime.

In the middle two quarters, Nikiski was outscored 20-4, and Monroe took the lead late in the third frame.

Nikiski coach Scott Anderson said the Bulldogs had trouble finding open looks, but once they did, they were passing them up.

“When we did shoot, we missed, so it adds to the problem,” Anderson said. “We had some kids step up when we needed it.”

Clark drove the lane for a floater early in the fourth quarter to cut the lead to two, then Kornstad buried a triple to help Nikiski take a 25-24 lead.

“I was sitting on the bench and coach was like, ‘No one wants to score the ball,’” Kornstad said. “When I got in there, I knew we had to have a scoring mentality, so when I got open, I took a 3.”

Kornstad followed up her trey with a hook shot with 2:27 to go to extend the lead, then Clark grabbed a steal and a transition layup to make it 29-24 with 1:43 to play.

Mapp hit a pair of free throws to close the gap back to 30-28 with 22 ticks left, but Kornstad was fouled on the ensuing play and hit two freebies to ice the game with 19 seconds left.

Friday boys

Bulldogs 58, Rams 57

Monroe 21 17 9 10 —57

Nikiski 19 11 14 14 —58

MONROE (57) — Lohrke 0 1-2 1, Davis 6 7-11 20, Brantley 2 1-2 7, Jackson 2 0-1 5, Justice 5 1-5 12, Bailey 4 0-0 8, Cole 2 0-0 4, Thomas 0 0-0 0. Totals 21 10-21 57.

NIKISKI (58) — I. Johnson 7 1-4 15, Anderson 1 1-2 3, L. Johnson 5 2-5 12, Kornstad 3 0-0 8, Holloway 5 3-4 15, Tauriainen 2 0-1 5, Carstens 0 0-0 0, Pamplin 0 0-0 0. Totals 23 7-16 58.

3-point goals — Nikiski 5 (Kornstad 2, Holloway 2, Tauriainen 1); Monroe 5 (Brantley 2, Davis 1, Jackson 1, Justice 1).

Team fouls — Nikiski 19; Monroe 19. Fouled out — Bailey, Thomas.

Friday girls

Bulldogs 35, Rams 28

Monroe 4 8 12 4 —28

Nikiski 16 2 2 15 —35

MONROE (28) — Mapp 6 4-4 16, Hollaus 0 2-3 2, Wallace 1 0-2 2, Michel 2 2-2 6, Withers 0 0-0 0, Lundgren 1 0-0 2, Martinez 0 0-0 0, Hajdukovich 0 0-0 0. Totals 10 8-11 28.

NIKISKI (35) — Wik 3 0-0 7, Riddall 0 0-0 0, Vollertsen 0 2-2 2, Pitt 0 0-0 0, Kornstad 2 4-5 9, Clark 6 0-1 15, Parrish 0 2-4 2, Jackson 0 0-0 0. Totals 11 8-12 35.

3-point goals — Monroe 0; Nikiski 5 (Clark 3, Kornstad 1, Wik 1).

Team fouls — Monroe 15; Nikiski 14. Fouled out — none.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Ian Johnson watches as his game-winning shot drops through the bucket with eight seconds left against Monroe Catholic on Friday at Nikiski High School. Monroe's Will Justice stands in front of Johnson, while Ryan Brantley (12) is guarding from behind.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski’s Ian Johnson watches as his game-winning shot drops through the bucket with eight seconds left against Monroe Catholic on Friday at Nikiski High School. Monroe’s Will Justice stands in front of Johnson, while Ryan Brantley (12) is guarding from behind.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Ian Johnson is hugged by Sam Tauriainen after Johnson made the game-winning shot in Nikiski's 58-57 victory over Monroe Catholic on Friday at Nikiski High School. Cade Anderson and Jace Kornstad high-five behind the celebration.

Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski’s Ian Johnson is hugged by Sam Tauriainen after Johnson made the game-winning shot in Nikiski’s 58-57 victory over Monroe Catholic on Friday at Nikiski High School. Cade Anderson and Jace Kornstad high-five behind the celebration.

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