NAMPA, Idaho – It took a couple of quarters for the Coeur d’Alene boys basketball team to shake the jitters, but once the Vikings got going, they looked very much like contenders at the Idaho 5A state tournament.
Senior guard Jake Matheson scored 20 points, junior Chad Chalich added 11 and Coeur d’Alene rolled to a convincing 59-41 opening-round victory over Eagle on Thursday afternoon at the Idaho Center.
“We got the nerves our early,” Matheson said. “A win feels great, but (two more) would feel a whole lot better.”
Coeur d’Alene (16-7) plays Centennial (19-5) in a 5A semifinal at 5:15 p.m. PST Friday. The 5A title game is set for 7 p.m. Saturday.
Both teams looked tentative early Thursday as Eagle looked to work the ball inside and Coeur d’Alene adjusted to one of the few zone defenses it had faced this season. Overall, the Vikings were able to contain the Mustangs’ two big posts – 6-foot-5 senior Daved Gillmor and 6-8 sophomore Braiden Shaw – as CdA took a 27-20 halftime lead.
“We knew they wanted to play zone, slow the game down and work the ball inside,” said Vikings coach Kent Leiss. “I thought we did a good job defending Gillmor.”
Coeur d’Alene hit its stride in the third quarter, using a 19-5 run to pull away for good. The Vikings built their cushion by pushing the tempo and forcing the Mustangs into turnovers or rushed shots on nearly every possession.
“I thought the first couple minutes of the third quarter were the key,” Leiss said. “We got some easy baskets and forced them to play from behind, and I don’t think that’s a style they are very comfortable playing.”
Matheson and senior Andrew Baracco led the charge for the Vikings, getting hands in the passing lanes and leading the transition attack. Baracco finished with five points, nine rebounds, three assists and four steals.
“They’ve got some big boys, but we saw them huffing and puffing,” Matheson said. “We knew we could beat them up and down the court. Once we got going, they got more and more tired and it just turned into a street-ball game.”
The Vikings certainly looked more comfortable playing that style, and Eagle never made a serious run at the lead. Gillmor – averaging nearly 18 points per game coming in – had 11 as the Mustangs shot just 36 percent from the field.
Junior post Ty Higbie had 10 points and five rebounds for CdA, while junior swingman Deon Watson finished with eight points, six rebounds and three assists. The Vikings shot 50 percent from the field – including 40 percent on 3-pointers – won the rebounding battle 33-26 and finished plus-six in the turnover column.
Coeur d’Alene is seeking its first state championship in boys basketball since 1998. The Vikings, quarterbacked by Chalich, won the 5A state football title in November.