Navigating a 24-hour turnaround posed a couple major challenges for Brandon Clubb and his Redhawks, though tired legs wasn't one of them.
Preparing for Peyton Thompson and one of Class 1A's most prolific offenses, though, had him a bit on edge.
The sixth-ranked Redhawks erased any worries with a dominant third-quarter performance en route to a 55-46 victory over Iowa Mennonite School in the Class 1A Substate 4 final Saturday - sealing North Tama's first-ever boys basketball state tournament berth.
Above, members of the North Tama basketball team hoist the program’s first-ever state tournament qualifier banner after beating Iowa Mennonite School, 55-46, in Saturday’s Class 1A Substate 4 final at Benton Community High School in Van Horne. Below, Dalton Hulme goes up for a shot over a defender. Below left, Skyler Kvidera celebrates. Above left, North Tama senior Mitchell Boerm scores two of his game-high 22 points.
"We weren't worried about our conditioning - that's something we hang our hat on obviously with the way we play," North Tama's head coach said. "We were just worried about whether or not we'd be prepared for them. We knew what they were going to run and the guys played their hearts out tonight because they had to."
Mitchell Boerm (22 points) and Nolan Hefty (19 points) led the Redhawks' blue-collar effort inside, while holding IMS - the sixth-highest scoring attack in Class 1A - 24 points below its season average.
North Tama (25-1) advances as the No. 3 seed to face No. 6 seed Ankeny Christian Academy (24-1) in a first-round game March 4 at Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines. Tip-off is set for 3:45 p.m.
Earning a 19-7 advantage on second chance points and 25 to 1 disparity in free throw attempts, North Tama built its 25-18 halftime lead by winning the battle down low and playing tough man-to-man defense on IMS' dangerous outside attack before breaking away in the third.
"The first half (Friday against G-R) was kind of a blessing in disguise, because we finally understood we wanted to get it inside, get after it and get those high percentage shots that we needed," said Clubb, whose squad overcame a 5-for-16 shooting effort in the first quarter with nine-second chance points to take a 13-10 lead. "Tonight we did that from the get go instead of just the second half."
The Redhawks' second half was no slouch either.
Just when Thompson seemed ready to get going with two quick buckets to start the third, the Redhawks retaliated with a 13-2 run to stretch a seven-point advantage to 42-24 entering the fourth.
North Tama made 7-of-10 shots in the quarter as a pair of driving buckets from Mitchell Boerm and a transition layup from Nolan Hefty set up a wide-open buzzer-beating 3-pointer from Jacob Wrage (eight points) that brought the Redhawk faithful to their feet and effectively put IMS on its last leg.
Iowa Mennonite (22-3) finally found its outside touch as 3-pointers from Dallas Nye, Justin Boller, Thompson and Cameron Gingerich highlighted a 17-6 rally. Gingerich's triple pulled IMS within 47-41 with 3:15 to play, but it couldn't bridge the gap.
North Tama's defensive strategy was simple but effective.
"It was a man-to-man defense, a help defense," Boerm said. "Help the helper, make sure you've got a guy to box out and get a hand in the face."
IMS missed all 12 of its 3-point attempts through three quarters and finished 5-for-24 from beyond the arc. Thompson, who came in averaging 19.6 points per game and shooting 42 percent from deep, was held to 11 points and one trey on a 5-for-14 outing from the field. Dallas Nye led IMS with 12 points before fouling out late, while Gingerich had nine.
"They made Peyton work really hard to get the ball and he kind of sets the tone for us," IMS coach Dwight Gingerich said. "Their size and their strength gave us trouble."
When trying to compare the Redhawks to another opponent IMS faced this season, Gingerich couldn't think of any that came close.
"I don't think we've seen it - the combination of their size and good guard play," Gingerich said.
The Redhawks made eight of their last 10 attempts from the line and finished 20-for-25 on the night to clinch their 15th straight win and make history in the process.
"This is one of our dreams," said Hefty. "We've been playing since third grade and always talked about getting here."