CEDAR RAPIDS – A variety of contributors on offense along with a key defensive adjustment was the formula for success Tuesday night as defending champion Cedar Falls booked a return trip to the Class 4A boys’ state basketball tournament.
Four Tigers scored in double figures, while the Cedar Falls defense held Linn-Mar scoreless for the entire third quarter of a 58-45 substate final victory inside the U.S. Cellular Center.
“We feel like it’s our identity,” Cedar Falls senior Jackson Frericks said, assessing his team’s defensive effort. “We want to shut teams down, keep them as low as they can. We believe we’re going to win a lot of games doing that.”
Cedar Falls coach Ryan Schultz had his players prepared to switch on all screens against a Linn-Mar team (15-6) that defeated the Tigers in overtime on Feb. 9 in Marion. That defensive strategy held the Lions to 11 misses and three turnovers, allowing Cedar Falls to extend a one-point halftime lead into 43-27 advantage going into the fourth quarter.
“They’re a set-heavy team,” Schultz said of Linn-Mar. “They run great actions and they get you chasing and running all over the place.”
Few high schools have the size and mentality on defense it takes to avoid mismatches from being exposed when guards switch onto forwards. This Cedar Falls team (18-3) was up to the task.
“The nice thing with our team is we’ve got a lot of length, a lot of physicality and a lot of guys that can guard the perimeter which really helps,” Schultz said. “Obviously we’re worried about the mismatches in the post, but we did a good job of getting around, fronting and getting that backside help and having recoveries on the backside to shooters.”
A core of physical seniors in Frericks, guard Logan Wolf and center Jack Campbell have emerged as leaders after serving as part of the supporting cast behind one of the state’s all-time greats, AJ Green, who averaged 26 points during last year’s title run. Following Green’s graduation, this trio of athletes committed to join NCAA Division I football programs continues to reveal they’re talented at basketball, as well.
Wolf guided Cedar Falls early with 10 of his 14 points in the first half, including a contested pull-up 3-pointer that gave the Tigers their largest lead of the second quarter, 28-24. Campbell tallied three consecutive baskets inside during the third quarter en route to a 13-point game.
Frericks added 11 points and served as a primary defender on Linn-Mar’s top scorer, Albany recruit Trey Hutcheson, by cutting off the drive and forcing him into double-teams. Hutcheson was held to just five of his 16 points in the second half.
“People questioned us and what we could do without AJ,” Wolf said. “We’ve shown that we’re a great team. We make shots, we play defense and we’re going to try and win the thing again.”
In addition to that group of seniors, Cedar Falls junior Joshua Ollendieck has become a valuable perimeter threat. He entered the substate game shooting 43 of 90 (47.8 percent) from 3-point range.
After missing his first four 3-point attempts on Tuesday, Ollendieck knocked down four of his next eight shots — including three consecutive treys during the third quarter. Mason Abbas, Wolf and Frericks also connected from distance for a Cedar Falls team that shot 9 of 16 from the perimeter after making just 4 of 17 3-point attempts in the regular-season loss to Linn-Mar.
“Coach just said I was shooting them a little deep at the start of the game,” noted Ollendieck, who led the Tigers with 15 points. “I just had to get my feet set, shoot good shots, and they’ll go down.
“It’s really important just to get spacing out there and to open up a lot of back cuts and get a lot of wide-open layups like they did last year at state. It means a lot being able to go out there and help them get some buckets.”
Schultz knows he’ll be taking a team full of winners back to Des Moines after many of these Tigers followed up last year’s basketball title run by reaching the state finals in football.
“I think it’s the grit, the balance, the toughness – really coming as a team and doing it as a committee,” Schultz said, addressing what has stood out about this season’s run to state. “Those are the things we’ve talked about.
“I know a lot of people talked about us losing AJ. Obviously you lose a player of his caliber and that’s a big hit to you, but our guys never ceased to believe in what they could do as a team. We’ve got a lot of talented basketball players in the locker room, but we’ve got a lot of great competitors.”
Ced. Falls 58, Linn-Mar 45
LINN-MAR (15-6) – Jaren Nelson 3-13 0-0 8, Greg Hall 1-4 2-2 5, Trey Hutcheson 5-14 4-4 16, John Steffen 4-7 0-0 9, Hayden Passmore 1-4 0-0 2, Brady Klahn 0-1 0-0 0, Cam Nelson 0-1 2-2 2, Tyler Oberbroeckling 1-1 0-0 3. Totals 15-45 8-9 45.
CEDAR FALLS (18-3) – Joshua Ollendieck 4-12 3-4 15, Logan Wolf 4-7 4-8 14, Mason Abbas 1-1 2-2 5, Jackson Frericks 3-7 3-4 11, Jack Campbell 4-6 5-6 13, Chase Courbat 0-1 0-0 0, Jaxon Heth 0-1 0-0 0, Ben Sernett 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 16-46 17-24 58.
Linn-Mar 13 14 0 18 – 45
Cedar Falls 13 15 15 15 – 58
3-point goals – Linn-Mar 7 (Nelson 2, Hutcheson 2, Hall, Steffen Oberbrockling), Cedar Falls 9 (Ollendieck 4, Wolf 2, Frericks 2, Abbas). Total fouls – Linn-Mar 16, Cedar Falls 10. Fouled out – none.