CEDAR FALLS — If the intensity and atmosphere from Friday night’s opening act can be duplicated, this could be a special metro boys’ basketball season.
Waterloo West made a statement on the scoreboard adjacent to a fresh and prominently displayed 2018 banner commemorating Cedar Falls’ first basketball title, playing up to a theme of fearless throughout a 69-63 overtime road win in each team’s season opener.
“We told our kids in the locker room before we started that we belong,” West coach Cliff Berinobis said. “We want our kids to start believing that we belong. We preach be fearless, and that’s what they were.”
Clinging to a four-point lead in the final minute of overtime, West junior Caleb Haag fittingly was the final Wahawk who delivered the type of bold play Berinobis wanted to see. Without hesitation, Haag hit his third 3-pointer for the dagger that completed an eye-opening, 28-point masterpiece.
“It’s going in,” Haag smiled, recalling his thoughts at that pivotal moment. “The main thing was keeping our head up and we kept attacking.”
Haag, who reached 30 points in a game on the sophomore team a season ago, said he’s been working throughout the summer to become mentally tougher, more physical and contribute to a basketball family. He knocked down two 3-pointers during a 12-point second quarter in which West closed on a 13-point run to take a 33-23 halftime lead.
After being held scoreless in the third quarter, West’s physical 6-foot-3 guard hit a pair of fluid fadeaway jumpers as part of a six-point fourth quarter and added five points in overtime.
“Caleb Haag has always had those capabilities,” said Berinobis.
Haag’s play was complemented by Michael Robinson Jr., who excelled setting the tempo from a starting point guard position he was handed just three days ago.
Mondre Lagow provided clutch shooting, as well. Lagow knocked down a contested 3-pointer — after Cedar Falls opened the third quarter on an 8-2 run — and opened overtime with a pair of corner 3-pointers as part of his 15-point game.
“Tip the hat to West,” Cedar Falls coach Ryan Schultz said after the Wahawks shot 24 of 50 from the field. “They came ready to play and they had some guys that just shot lights out. They played hard and they played together. A lot of credit goes to West.”
Both teams have a different look following the graduation of all-state leading scorers AJ Green of Cedar Falls and Carondis Harris-Anderson of West.
West’s quickness presented a match-up problem for Cedar Falls’ physical frontcourt. Returning starting center Jack Cambell spent the majority of the game on the bench and fouled out with 6 minutes, 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Still, the Tigers rallied from down 10 points in the third quarter and took a 53-52 lead with 52 seconds left in regulation after Jackson Frericks’ transition layup off a turnover completed a 13-2 go-ahead run. Logan Wolf, who led Cedar Falls with 20 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one free throw opportunity before West’s Jaden Keller converted a pair of free throws after being fouled on a drive with 8.6 seconds left in the fourth to give the Wahawks a 54-53 lead.
Wolf was fouled with 3 seconds remaining, made the first free throw, but missed the second after a timeout — sending the game into an overtime period in which West never trailed.
“My message after the game to our guys was I’m proud of the way they fought,” Schultz said. “I think they faced our first big test, and faced a little adversity.
“This is a new team. We’ve got to find out who we are and what our identity is this year. The biggest thing we need to do is learn from these types of games.”
Haag described the bus ride from Waterloo to Cedar Falls as focused and dead quiet. The Wahawks knew they’d have to play at a high level to earn their second win over the defending state champions in as many seasons.
“Cedar Falls, they’ve set the standard for us, honestly,” Berinobis said. “They’re setting the bar and we’re trying to reach the bar. Tonight we did.”
West 69, Cedar Falls 63, OT
WATERLOO WEST (1-0) — Sebastian Gunderson 0-5 2-2 2, Caleb Haag 11-19 3-5 28, Isaiah Johnson 3-8 0-0 9, Michael Robinson Jr. 1-2 1-2 4, Jaden Keller 2-7 7-9 11, Mondre Lagow 6-9 0-0 15, Mitch Fordyce 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-50 13-18 69.
CEDAR FALLS (0-1) — Joshua Ollendieck 1-6 6-7 9, Logan Wolf 9-19 1-3 20, Mason Abbas 4-5 0-0 10, Jackson Frericks 6-12 1-2 15, Jack Campbell 1-6 0-0 2, Chase Courbat 1-1 0-0 2, Cael Loecher 0-0 0-0 0, Ben Sernett 0-1 0-0 0, Tenchi Porter 0-1 0-0 0, Jaxon Heath 1-5 2-3 5. Totals 23-46 10-15 63.
Wat. West 13 20 7 14 15 — 69
Cedar Falls 17 6 12 19 9 — 63
3-point goals — West 7 (Haag 3, Lagow 3, Robinson Jr.), CF 5 (Abbas 2, Ollendieck, Wolf, Heth). Total fouls — West 14, Cedar Falls 17. Fouled out — Campbell.