Basketball: Royal boys regroup, hand Big Lake 1st league loss 82-74

by Bruce Strand, Sports editor

The Rogers Royals shook off a shaky week of basketball and turned in “a very efficient game” to beat  first-place Big Lake 82-74 Tuesday on the Hornets’ court.

Cullen Loughlin scored 18 points to lead five double-digit scorers by the Royals, who snapped a three-game skid that included an 0-2 start in the Mississippi 8.

“Really, everyone on the court contributed tonight,” said Rogers coach Joe Belka.
Cole Murray added 16 points,  Luke Pecka 14, Sam Spilles 12 and Ryan Gelle 11 for the Royals (1-2 conference, 6-11 overall).

Austin Poe poured in 26 points for Big Lake (2-1 conference, 10-4 overall). Sam Dokkebakken added 18 and Michael Doperalski 13.

Rogers lost its conference opener to STMA 62-60 on Jan. 18, then sputtered twice last week with losses to Cambridge-Isanti 72-61 and unbeaten Brainerd 96-63.

“We really struggled at Cambridge, and we made a real good Brainerd team look great,” said Belka. “But the kids came to practice Monday focused and ready to move on. We played a very efficient game tonight.”

Rogers led 42-33 at halftime, widened the lead to 20, saw Big Lake pull within six, then pulled away.

Loughlin got his 18 points, plus 6 rebounds and 3 blocks, while playing in foul trouble. Murray also snagged 7 rebounds and took a couple charges. “The best game he’s had,” said the coach. Spilles, hobbled by an ankle injury, still contributed. Gelle also had 6 assists and 7 rebounds.

Big Lake thrives on team speed and 3-point shooting. The Hornets were off the mark against Rogers, making just six of 27 outside the arc. Late in the first half, Rogers abandoned man-to-man and went to a zone,  and extended it out to battle the perimeter shooters.

“Their shots were contested,” said Belka. “We had a hand up, or people flying around, and Cole took away the paint if they tried to go inside.”

Rogers was 16-for-19 at the line, spread out among several players. Cullen had the most, 4-for-4. Big Lake was 16-for-22.

The Royals weren’t sharp on three’s either (4-for-14) but got the ball inside consistently and made 27-for-41 on two-pointers.

With Big Lake’s loss, Buffalo is the lone Mississippi 8 unbeaten at 3-0. Buffalo is Rogers’ next opponent, on the Bison’s court Friday.

Rogers scoring — Cullen Loughlin 18 (6 reb, 3 blk, 2 stl), Gunnar Bloom 7 (4 ast, 3 stl), Ryan Gelle 11 (6 ast, 7 reb), Luke Pecka 14 (4 ast), Cole Murray 16 (7 reb, 2 blk), Paul Olson 2, Sam Spilles  12