The dynamic duo of Riley Hulke and Shane Stevensen combined for 51 points, helping the Nicollet Raiders to defeat the St. James Area Saints in the season opener for both teams, 72-56.
The Saints and Raiders both came out of the gates fast, trading buckets and playing at a breakneck pace. With the game tied at 14-14, the Raiders switched their defense from man-to-man into a zone. The sudden defensive shift took the Saints out of rhythm and gave Nicollet the advantage.
"They were real aggressive with it [the zone]," said head coach Spencer Monson. "It's the beginning of the year so you haven't seen anything at this point. But really what it came down to is we just couldn't hit shots. We're a pretty good three-point shooting team, it may not have looked it tonight but we are and those shots are going to fall."
Stevensen scored two quick baskets, which was followed by a Tyler Laven make. A catch and shoot three from Drew Grommersch gave Nicollet a 23-14 lead. A lead they would not relinquish for the rest of the game.
On the strength of four baskets from Hulke and one from Stevensen [off a pretty assist from Hulke], the lead blossomed up to 37-22 at halftime, with Derrick Halvorson connecting at the buzzer to make it a 15-point game.
Hulke and Stevensen combined to score 26 of Nicollet's 37 points in the half.
"We tried some things to take them away but mostly we were just trying to play straight up man," said Monson. "Where we got hurt was we need to box out better. They got a lot of offensive rebounds and we just turned the ball over too much."
The Raiders continued to pour it on early in the second half, with the lead eventually swelling to 24 on a three by Hulke. St. James was able to cut the lead down to 13 behind a pair of Michael Suarez threes, a three by Logan Carlson, and a basket from Hayden Jones.
Trailing by 13 after five consecutive points from Halvorson, Hulke once again proved to be too much of a force. With 4:30 left in the second half, Hulke buried a pull-up three and got a steal and layup on the ensuing St. James possession, officially putting the game out of reach.
Hulke finished with 25 points and a trio of threes. Stevensen had 26 with a pair of threes of his own. No other Raider finished with more than five.
Hayden Jones led the Saints with 22 points. Derrick Halvorson finished with 12. Logan Carlson and Michael Suarez each scored six. Daevon Anderson finished with five. Steven Balbuena and Sawyer Evans finished three and two, respectively to round out the St. James scoring.