CHERRY — The International Falls boys’ basketball team had no answer for Cherry freshman Isaac Asuma, who poured in 37 points to put the Tigers on top Friday night, 68-62.
Asuma’s 37 points led all scorers. The Cherry phenom also hit seven three pointers in the contest, including two late in the game to give the Tigers their final lead of the night.
The Tigers went up early in the contest, starting things off with a 17-4 run that started with back-to-back buckets on the drive from Asuma. Later up 6-2, Asuma knocked down a three and then hit one of two from the charity stripe the next possession down to give Cherry the 10-2 lead.
Cherry continued to score with Sam Serna laying one in before seventh grader Noah Asuma hit a three and followed that up with a putback the next trip down.
The Broncos began to bounce back, however, as their height advantage over the smaller Tigers team let them get the extra offensive board. Scoring on four of the next five possessions, the Broncos’ Riley Larson found his home in the paint, scoring twice on the drive and twice more on the putback.
Trailing 19-12, Cullen Rein then hit a jumper for International Falls, forcing a timeout from Cherry coach Jordan Christianson.
The two teams kept things close as the half came to a close with the Broncos’ Jett Tomczak knocking down a late three to make it a two-pint game at the break, 26-24.
Tomczak stayed warm over the break and knocked down another three on the first possession of the second half, giving the Broncos their first lead of the night. Cherry answered back, however, with threes from Isaac Asuma and Serna putting them in front yet again.
The Cherry offense continued to flow through Asuma, but his scoring slowed for a bit thanks to the defensive efforts of Rein, who guarded the freshman all night long. Trailing 37-34, back-to-back buckets from Rein and Larson put International Falls in front again, 38-37. A three point play from Larson then stretched the lead out to four.
Asuma and Larson continued to do battle for their respective teams with both hitting threes and scoring in the paint in a back-and-forth battle.
Asuma kept Cherry from falling behind with another three, this time to tie things at 51. The Broncos’ Knute Boerger knocked down a pair of free throws, but Serna hit a three of his own to give Cherry the lead.
The lead changed yet again with Tomczak knocking down a bucket from the elbow with Larson then getting a steal and a layup on the ensuing possession.
A bucket from Noah Asuma made it a one-point game with about three minutes to play. Giving his team their last lead of the night, Isaac Asuma knocked down back-to-back threes just before freshman Andrew Staples hit a three of his own to make it an eight point game, 65-57.
A few more buckets from Rein and Tomczak made the game close, but the Tigers had the clock on their side and eventually came away with the 68-62 win.
Isaac Asuma finished with 37 points while Noah Asuma was next with 10. International Falls was paced by Larson’s 24, Rein’s 18 and Tomczak’s 11.
Coming off a three-point loss to Chisholm on Tuesday, Cherry head coach Jordan Christianson said resiliency was the key to Friday’s game.
“We had to stay resilient all game,” Christianson. “International Falls is a team that definitely keeps the pressure on. After playing in a tough game like we did against Chisholm, I think that helped us for a game like tonight. The back-and-forth games we’ve been playing lately, we lost one against Chisholm but it really got us ready for tonight.”
“We need those games. Those games are good for our growth. We didn’t have to do anything as coaches. The players learned from Tuesday. They progressed as players and as a team in that regard.”
With Asuma’s 37 points driving the Cherry offense, Christianson says the freshman’s abilities have only gotten better as teams have come in with the goal of trying to shut him down.
“People are scheming against him and he knew that coming into this season that defenses were really going to focus on him. There’s games I’ve seen three guys all focused on him and that means we need our other guys to step up on the perimeter.
“Isaac is starting to get used to it. He’s finding ways to combat all that but hats off to Rein who guarded him the whole game and did a great job keeping him in front. Games like this are huge for our growth but to have Isaac, I have all the confidence in the world with him.”
Struggling against the Broncos and their height at times, Christianson says the team will need to continue to work on ways to outplay larger teams.
“We really have no height throughout our program so we’ve had to have one of our coaches, Corey Henkel, step in during practice and play in the post so they can play against a grown man, someone with size. We always tell them to battle. Rein was killing us down low and so was Larson. We just have to start collapsing more and wear them down a little bit more.”
The Tigers (5-2) are off until Thursday when they have back-to-back road games in Littlefork and then on Friday against Duluth Marshall. With some practice time ahead of them, Christianson says the team will spend some time progressing their supporting cast outside of Asuma.
“We’ve had guys step up with big games all year but we haven’t really put it together for everyone. One night we’ll get 30 points combined from two guys and then not much the next night. Then a couple other guys will step up the next game.
“We have to put it all together to take some pressure off Isaac so he can do his thing. It’s just about becoming a more well rounded team, a team that has to have all five players taken seriously. I think we’ll get to that point, we just need some more practice.”
IF 24 38 — 62
CHS 26 42 — 68
International Falls: Knute Boerger 8, Riley Larson 24, Tucker Budris 1, Cullen Rein 18, Jett Tomczak 11; Three pointers: Rein 1, Tomczak 3; Free throws: 7-9; Total fouls: 18; Fouled out: none.
Cherry: Andrew Staples 8, Isaac Asuma 37, Noah Asuma 10, Sam Serna 8, Zach Carpenter 2, Kaleb Rinerson 2, Carter Nelson 1; Three pointers: Staples 2, I. Asuma 7, N. Asuma 2, Serna 2; Free throws: 9-20; Total fouls: 10; Fouled out: none.
North Woods 110
Mesabi East 57
At Aurora, the Grizzlies were led by TJ Chiabotti’s 26-point effort and Darius Goggleye’s 21-point double-double in a 110-57 win over Mesabi East Friday.
Mesabi East (0-6) plays at Deer River Monday, while North Woods (7-1) hosts Virginia next Friday.
No further details were reported to the Mesabi Tribune as this edition went to press.