Le Mars Communityrecovered from a poor stretch just before halftime to deal Spirit Lake a 64-44 loss in Lakes Conference boys basketball action Friday at Spirit Lake.
The Bulldogs led 10-6 after the first quarter and scored the first 10 points of the second to lead 20-6, then let the Indians back into the game in the closing minutes before the half. Spirit Lake finished the second quarter on a 17-7 run, slicing Le Mars' lead to 27-23 at the break.
"We were up 20-6 and just kind of forgot to play defense in transition," said Le Mars coach Dave Irwin. "They scored a lot of layups at the end of the second quarter and most of our turnovers occurred in the last three minutes of the first half. We just did a real poor job at the end of the first half."
Irwin urged his team to return to its earlier from during the break and the Bulldogs responded in the third quarter, out-scoring the Indians 18-6 to open up a 45-29 lead heading into the final frame.
"We were really disappointed in ourselves on how we finished the first half and we came out and made a pretty good statement both offensively and defensively," said Irwin. "We attacked their zone and took good shots. When we did that, we got into our defense rather easily."
Junior Jared Clement paced Le Mars offensively with 23 points, adding six rebounds and a season-high five assists. The Bulldogs were without starting point guard Tim Claussen for the second straight game and Clement had been called upon by Irwin to step up his passing. The coach was happy with how Clement answered the call.
"I think Jared's doing a good job of looking for his teammates and not feeling like he has to carry the load offensively every night," said Irwin. "That makes it a lot more fun for him and everyone else around him."
Clement had help in the form of the Phelan brothers as well with senior Brandon logging a team-best eight assists and junior Justin running the point in Claussen's absence. Brandon also had 10 points and four steals, while Zack Strub contributed nine points and eight rebounds and Caleb Van Otterloo eight points and seven boards.
The Bulldogs combined for just nine turnovers in the contest compared to Spirit Lake's 16, also out-rebounding the Indians 32-31.
Le Mars shot 41 percent from the field, connecting on 22 of 54 two-point attempts and 6 of 15 from beyond the arc, knocking down 14 of 20 from the foul line as well.
The win over Spirit Lake was Le Mars' third straight in the Lakes since a disappointing two-point loss at Storm Lake Jan. 17. The Bulldogs (7-6, 6-3) will now play conference basement dweller Estherville Lincoln Central (2-10, 0-9) Friday at home before starting a crucial three-game stretch against Hull Western Christian, Sheldon and Emmetsburg - the three teams currently ahead of Le Mars in the Lakes standings.
"I'd like to make it four in a row and then we have three tough games we have to mentally be ready for," said Irwin of the upcoming schedule. "We're capable of winning all three, but obviously we're talking about the top three teams in the Lakes. Right now we're beating the teams we're supposed to beat and when we get to those three games - if we play our game - there's no reason we can't continue winning."
That said, Irwin is not overlooking the Midgets Friday. Despite an 0-9 league record, Estherville has shown it can play with the conference heavyweights at times.
"They played Hull Western to a seven-point game. They're capable of knocking down the three-pointers - they made 16 against Hull Western," said Irwin. "We can't take any opponent for granted. We have to come ready to play Friday."