Lakeland’s Jonathan Jurries gets up in the air on a drive through the lane against Ashland.
Lakeland’s Jonathan Jurries gets up in the air on a drive through the lane against Ashland.
After establishing control on both the scoreboard and the backboard, Lakeland blew a 28-15 halftime lead and fell Ashland 53-45 Tuesday night in the season opener at the LUHS fieldhouse.

“I think the pressure was the tale of the game,” Lakeland head coach Rich Fortier said. “They put the wood to us and we didn’t have a great answer.”

In the fist half it was the Oredockers who were having trouble figuring out how to stop the Thunderbirds.

Michael Ouimette was masterful on the drive down low. If he wasn’t laying it in he was getting fouled and hitting from the stripe. The junior forward had nine first-half points.

“We had a pretty good advantage, especially on catches on the inside,” Fortier said. “We feel like we were in pretty good shape there, and what that does it elevates the pressure on the perimeter because they have to sag. They have to get in there and mess with Mike.”

But on the perimeter, senior guard Jonathan Jurries, typically a threat from outside, struggled to find his shot, so he joined in on the acton in the lane and also found great success with penetration that netted him 10 first-half points.

With fellow senior Ray Rentmeester doing the dirty work on the glass, diving out of bounds for saves and steals, and taking offensive fouls, the Thunderbirds were in command at halftime.

But when Ashland came out in the second half they brought a full-court press with them and it rattled Lakeland.

“They really brought the pressure,” Fortier said. “We have to find an ability to get the ball up the floor in the face of pressure, we just have to. We just didn’t do it tonight and we were exposed.”

Once Ashland found that chink in Lakeland’s armor, they were relentless. Every time the T-Birds brought the ball up the floor they had an Oredocker in their face, which forced every move Lakeland made to be rushed and out of rhythm.  

Consequently, Lakeland began getting beat to rebounds on the many missed shots that began piling up for the T-Birds.

Ouimette and Jurries went cold from the floor and the T-Birds would only score 17 second half points, and 11 of those were free throws.

On the other end of the floor though, Ashland’s Jordan Brennan was racking up points.  

The senior guard went off for 17 second-half points, including two 3s. He finished with 26 points overall, including four hits from 3-point range.

The next highest scorer for the Oredockers though was Joey Davidson, who had a total of six points, so there was no one else on the floor hurting the T-Birds except Brennan ... and themselves.

“We got to be able to get our teeth punched and then come back and then fight back,” Fortier said. “There were too many times where we were not capable of doing that tonight.”

And because the Oredockers were so physical and fast paced, the T-Birds didn’t get a chance to collect their breath and snap out of it. They just kept misfiring, on shots and passes.

Ouimette and Jurries were unable to dominate on the drive like they did in the first half as the lane became more clogged. The two of them combined for only 11 second half points.

“You have to fight through a little bit of contact,” Fortier said. “You run into trouble in a basketball game. That’s factual and that’s never going to change. You have to be able to handle bumps. I just didn’t think we did tonight. We just didn’t handle the ball.”

Fortier, however, is confident the full court press will not be a chronic problem.

“Thankfully, the things that we weren’t very good at tonight are things that are really correctable, but there’s got to be some hardcore buy-in and I know there is,” he said.

The T-Birds brushed themselves off and got after it again Thursday night at Wausau West after deadline. 

Lakeland is home Saturday afternoon to take on Hayward as part of a girls-boys doubleheader. The boys’ game is slated for 4 p.m.

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