Entering the game against Rhinelander on Jan. 25, the Lakeland boys basketball team was on a five-game losing streak, roughed-up largely in part by relentless full court defensive pressure by their opponents. But if you can’t beat them, join them, and that’s exactly what Lakeland did.  

They became a pressing team, and the press finally worked for them rather than against them, leading to a 61-53 win over the Hodags at Rhinelander.

“(We) tried something a little different,” Lakeland head coach Rich Fortier said. “Let’s create a mind set. Let’s get after them from the start and cause a few turnovers, and we did.”

The Thunderbirds started the game with a full court press that rattled Hodag ball handlers and forced hurried shots, and Lakeland took advantage of Rhinelander’s struggles with extremely hot shooting, in particular by Jonathan Jurries.  

Jurries could not be stopped from long range or through the lane in traffic, and he led a T-Bird offensive attack that put them up by as many as a dozen toward the end of the first half.  

“I do like him shooting the ball and obviously both halves he had a pretty good game,” Fortier said. “He was kind of the steadying catalyst for the team all game long and he was just always there.”

Jurries had to be, because while Lakeland’s defense kept Rhinelander away from the hoop, there was nothing they could do if the Hodags simply started shooting over them, and that’s what happened in the second half.

Rhinelander finally found their stroke as Junior Howard and Quinn Lamers led a barrage of Hodag three pointers that did damage to Lakeland’s lead.  

But Jurries and the T-Birds never went on a lengthy drought and continued to get enough stops and score steadily themselves, keeping their lead secure.

“I said we can’t walk out of here with just a seven point lead. We got to walk out of here with 10 or 11,” Fortier said. “We got it back down to seven and instead of blinking we pushed it back up to 14.”

But in the face of Rhinelander’s late surge, Lakeland stood their ground and shared the ball. The rest of the starters: Mason Wolfe, Ray Rentmeester, Collin Quade, and Michael Ouimette, all had key buckets down the stretch when Jurries was doubled, and the T-Birds held on for a 61-53 win.

Coach Fortier had not won at Rhinelander in six years, since he left the Hodags and took the head job at Lakeland, but he stressed that Friday’s win was important only because of what it meant to this year’s team’s season.

“It’s a great win,” Fortier said. “I don’t know if it’s any more special, but we needed a win to start the second half of our conference season and we got it.”

Jurries led all scorers with 29 points. Collin Quade pitched in 11 for the T-Birds and Mason Wolfe had seven.  

Junior Howard led the Hodags with 19, followed by Lamers with 12 and Brock Lieder with seven.

With the win Lakeland improves to 8-7 overall and 4-3 in the Great Northern Conference where they sit in a three way tie for second place with Rhinelander and Antigo. Mosinee is undefeated at the top of the conference at 7-0.  

Lakeland next plays Northland Pines at home tonight. The game is scheduled for 7:15 p.m. at the Lakeland fieldhouse.  

Jacob Friede may be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.