Polars boys basketball continues to roll

The North High School boys basketball team cleared the two biggest hurdles in the first half of the Metro East Conference schedule by beating Tartan and Mahtomedi. Those victories helped keep the Polars unbeaten in conference play and in first place in the conference standings.

At 15-4, North has already more than doubled last year's win total but head coach Joe Janquart knows there is still more to be accomplished this season.

"We're not settled on whatever our record is," said Janquart, who is in his fourth season at North. "There's a long ways to go."

Beating Tartan is something that doesn't happen very often for the Polars, who had gone 10 years without a victory over the Titans. 

"I think it means more to the people of this community," Janquart said. "You don’t know it until it happens."

North followed up the Tartan victory by beating South St. Paul. That set up another huge game, this time against Mahtomedi on Jan. 22. The Zephyrs entered the night a game behind the Polars and a Mahtomedi victory would have created a three-way logjam atop the Metro East Conference standings.

For a good chunk of the first half, it looked as if that scenario would come to fruition as Mahtomedi opened up a 14-point lead. Trailing by six, the Zephyrs went on a 27-7 run and appeared ready to run North out of its own gym.

Instead of folding, North responded with a 14-8 run of its own to cut Mahtomedi's lead to eight by halftime.

Mahtomedi's 41 points in the first half were the most the Polars had given up in one half in their last 12 games. 

"You're not going to play your best defense all the time," said Janquart. "We'd like to do it every game but we know we're not going to. We were a step slow on a lot of things."

North more than made up for it in the second half as it held the Zephyrs to 17 points after the break. Janquart said there weren't any adjustments made.

"It wasn’t really about changing anything," Janquart said. "It was about lighting a fire underneath them. Our guys responded. They know what they need to do out there."

North wasted little time getting back to its game. The Polars scored the first nine points of the second half to regain the lead. After a few minutes of trading the lead back and forth, North retook the lead for good on a three-pointer by senior Termaine Daniels.

"When we're going defensively, it helps us offensively," Janquart said. "Sometimes our best offense comes from what we're doing defensively. When we can change the court and the tempo the way we did, it's fun just letting them play."

Adreon Wadlington paced the Polars and led all scorers with 25 points while Goodnews Kpegeol added 10.

North followed up the Mahtomedi win with a 77-45 thumping of Henry Sibley on Jan. 26. Josh Steckler had the hot hand that night for the Polars as he poured in 20 points.

With 15 victories and seven games left on the schedule, North has a good shot at tripling last year's win total. Experience is a major reason for the Polars' turnaround this season.

"We had guys last year playing out of position and they didn't have a lot of varsity experience," Janquart said. "Our conference was senior-laden last year."

Janquart also noted that the players have put in the effort over the past year to get better and be able to compete.

"I can't keep these guys out of the gym," said Janquart. "To see their growth from freshman year to now, I could write a book about these kids and what they've been through. It’s a credit to them."

The Sibley victory ran North's winning streak to nine games, which dates back to before Christmas.

The Polars are busy this week with three games on the docket. North traveled to Hastings on Feb. 2 (after the deadline for this edition of the Review) and White Bear Lake on Feb. 3 before returning home to host St. Thomas Academy on Feb. 5.

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.



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