For years, the Haines Merchants were the ultimate run-and-gun team in the Gold Medal Basketball Tournament's B Bracket.
The Merchants won three straight titles and four in five years since the late 1990s, and rarely did their scores have fewer than three digits.
But this year, things have changed. The Haines Merchants, like most of the B Bracket teams, have discovered defense.
Facing an uncharacteristic cold spell that saw Haines go eight minutes with only one basket in the second half, the Merchants used their defense to claim a 77-64 victory over Yakutat in Wednesday's losers' bracket action at the Juneau-Douglas High School main gym. Haines will play the defending B Bracket champion Kake Tlingit Heat in today's 4 p.m. losers' bracket semifinal game, while Yakutat was eliminated from the tournament with the loss. Today's 9 p.m. winners' bracket semifinal features Huna ANB vs. Hydaburg.
"Our defense kept us in the game," said Andrew Friske, who scored 16 points for Haines. "In the nine years we've been coming here, this is by far the most competitive the bracket has been from (teams) one to eight. I think all the teams have stepped up their defense. Any team can score, but the teams that can play defense are the ones who will win."
Haines led the entire way, with Yakutat forcing just three ties (at 15-15, 18-18 and 20-20) and leading just once (at 18-15) during the game. And both teams were playing tough defense.
Haines opened the game with a bucket by Jason Shull and a couple of 3-pointers by Stuart DeWitt and Friske, followed by a jumper from Jesse McGraw. But the only points scored by Haines over the next 7 1/2 minutes were three free throws as Yakutat forced the two ties.
Then Shull, who led Haines with 21 points, hit a 3-pointer and the Merchants heated up again. Haines crept ahead and held a 41-34 advantage at halftime.
The Merchants led throughout the second half, with the closest Yakutat getting being 57-54 during the middle of Haines' eight-minute stretch with just one field goal. DeWitt, who finished with eight points, hit a 3-pointer to end the streak, and that rekindled the Haines offense.
"Luckily, I think that's happening fewer times," Shull said of the dry spells.
"If we come out as flat as we did today, we could be in trouble," Friske said.
Haines and Yakutat were well matched, as both teams had dominant big men inside - 6-foot-10 center Ben Egolf for Haines and 6-8 center Nate Endicott for Yakutat - and both teams can shoot from the perimeter. Haines relies a little more on its perimeter play, while Yakutat tends to bring the ball inside more and work the cutting lanes.
The game had a scare with 9 minutes, 28 seconds left, when Luck Dunbar of Haines was injured trying to defend against a shot by Yakutat's Jim Jensen.
Dunbar, who picked up a foul on the play, was knocked to the ground and landed hard on his left elbow. He also suffered a couple of cuts over his left eye. Dunbar was on the floor for about five minutes while medics worked on him, and when he finally sat up there were some gruesome streaks of blood running down his scalp. Dunbar's left arm was in a sling and he had bandages on his head, but he stuck around until the end of the game before heading to the hospital to get checked out.
"Definitely, missing Luck is huge," said Egolf, who scored 12 points. "He was playing tough for us, scoring underneath, playing tough defense and getting a lot of rebounds. But we've got a deep team."
"It was physical against Yakutat, but it always is when we play them," Dunbar said. "I'll be playing tomorrow. I've still got to get it checked out and get some stitches, but I'll be playing. I just wanted that rebound, and Jimmy's solid."
Endicott scored 15 points to lead Yakutat, while Ralph Johnson had 14 points and Damien Long added 10. Jensen, who was one of the first players to check on Dunbar, scored seven points and Dustin Endicott had eight points.
"I was driving and that goofball got in the way. We're good friends, but I told him it was going to happen," Jensen said.
One problem area for Yakutat was free throws. Yakutat made just 10 of 21 for the game, and if you take out Johnson's 6-for-6 the rest of the team was 4-for-15. Yakutat only made 2 of 9 free throws in the second half. Haines went 26 for 33 from the free-throw line.
"This tournament is such an important thing to all the communities," Shull said. "I've played in a lot of tournaments, and it's an amazing atmosphere."
Kake Tlingit Heat 95, Angoon 85
The defending B Bracket champion Kake Tlingit Heat kept their hopes alive for a repeat title as they outlasted Angoon in a losers' bracket game Wednesday.
Kake led 46-41 at halftime, but Angoon fought back and took the lead early in the second half. After a few lead swaps midway through the period, Kake's Jay Peterson scored five straight points to break a 70-70 tie and fire up the Tlingit Heat. Kake never trailed again, as it went on to eliminate Angoon from the tournament. Kake will play the Haines Merchants in today's 4 p.m. losers' bracket semifinal.
Rudy Bean scored 23 points to lead Kake, which made 17 of 20 free throws in the game. Scott Jackson added 14 points, while Aaron Loges scored 13 and Mike Smith added 11 for a balanced Tlingit Heat attack that saw eight players score at least six points.
Curtis Lane scored 27 points and hit seven 3-pointers, including a couple from NBA range, to lead Angoon. Guy Hunter added 22 points, while Stan Johnson had 15 and Clayton Edwin 13 points.
HAINES MERCHANTS 77, YAKUTAT 64
Wednesday's losers' bracket game from JDHS
YAKUTAT (64) - Nate Endicott 7 1-2 15, Jim Jensen 2 3-9 7, Jake Endicott 0 0-2 0, Ralph Johnson 4 6-6 14, Wayne Gray 0 0-0 0, Mike Jensen 0 0-0 0, Dustin Endicott 4 0-0 8, Damien Long 5 0-0 10, Ahpa Porter 1 0-0 2, Anthony Schmidt 2 0-2 5, Martin Sensmeier 1 0-0 3. Totals: 26 10-21 64.
HAINES MERCHANTS (77) - Andrew Friske 6 2-3 16, Stuart DeWitt 2 2-2 8, Brian Friske 2 3-6 7, Luck Dunbar 1 1-2 3, Jesse McGraw 2 2-2 6, Ben Egolf 3 6-6 12, Brian Elliot 0 0-0 0, David Buss 0 0-0 0, Kevin Thompson 0 0-0 0, Tyler Healy 1 2-2 4, Jason Shull 6 8-10 21. Totals: 23 26-33 77.
YAKUTAT 34 30 - 64
HAINES MERCHANTS 41 36 - 77
3-point goals - Yakutat 2 (Schmidt 1, Sensmeier 1), Haines Merchants 5 (A. Friske 2, DeWitt 2, Shull 1). Fouled out - Yakutat 2 (J. Jensen, Long), Haines Merchants 1 (Healy). Technical fouls - Yakutat 1 (J. Jensen 1), Haines Merchants 0. Total fouls - Yakutat 27, Haines Merchants 18.
KAKE TLINGIT HEAT 95, ANGOON 85
Wednesday's losers' bracket game from JDHS
KAKE TLINGIT HEAT (95) - Rudy Bean 7 8-8 23, Nick Davis 0 0-0 0, Mike Smith 3 4-4 11, Anthony Dolan 2 2-3 6, Lloyd Davis 3 2-3 9, Brandon Jackson 4 0-0 9, David Watkins 1 0-0 2, Aaron Loges 6 0-0 13, Jay Peterson 3 0-0 8, Kyle Anderson 0 0-0 0, Scott Jackson 6 1-2 14, Shane Padgett 0 0-0 0. Totals: 35 17-95.
ANGOON (85) - Clayton Edwin 4 5-8 13, Steve Jack 0 0-0 0, Edward Kookesh 0 0-0 0, Stan Johnson 6 3-4 15, Levi Johnson 0 0-0 0, Jason Frank 1 3-3 5, Guy Hunter 10 2-4 23, Travis Woodbury 1 0-0 2, Frank Lane 0 0-0 0, Frank Jack 0 0-1 0, Curtis Lane 9 2-2 27, Stephen Johnson 0 0-0 0. Totals: 31 15-22 85.
KAKE TLINGIT HEAT 46 49 - 95
ANGOON 41 44 - 85
3-point goals - Kake Tlingit Heat 8 (Peterson 2, Bean 1, M. Smith 1, L. Davis 1, B. Jackson 1, Loges 1, S. Jackson 1), Angoon 8 (C. Lane 7, Hunter 1). Fouled out - Kake Tlingit Heat 0, Angoon 1 (Frank). Technical fouls - None. Total fouls - Kake Tlingit Heat 21, Angoon 21.