Hulne: Packer boys still among the Big Nine’s best

Published 6:57 pm Wednesday, January 16, 2019

A lot has changed with the Packer basketball team from last season to this season. The team has had to replace four starters and the squad is more willing to drive to the hoop this season.

But one thing remains the same — the Packers can still pile on points in bunches and they’ve proven they can still play with the best of the Big Nine.

As we approach the half-way point of the Big Nine schedule, the Packers (9-2 overall, 9-1 Big Nine) are right in the thick of things as they trail Mankato East (9-1 overall, 7-0 Big Nine) by just one game in the conference standings.

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Austin will get its first shot at the Cougars when they host Mankato East on Paint the Gym Pink Night at 7:30 p.m. this Friday night. The Cougars will come into the game on a hot streak as they’ve won eight in a row and they’ve scored at least 80 points in their last four wins, which came over Albert Lea, Orono, Rochester Mayo and Marshall. East has also stepped on the defensive end of the floor as the team has allowed just 58 points per game.

The Packers have won four straight since they suffered a 20-point loss to Lakeville North on Dec. 29 and they showed signs of finding their defensive legs in a 70-64 win over Northfield last Friday.

The Packers will have to play solid defense to beat East, and they’ll also have to share the wealth. The Packers are always a more dangerous team when all five players on the floor are a threat to score.

So far Medi Obang and Agwa Nywesh have done most of the scoring for the Packers, but Dongrin Deng and Ngor Deng are very capable on the offensive end as well and a big game could be right around the corner for either of them.

Austin also has a pair of new players who have both shown flashes of being big contributors this season in sophomore Teyghan Hovland, who has impacted the game with his passing, rebounding and defense, and Moses Idris, a strong-willed athlete who is still figuring out the finer points of the game.

If those four players, along with the rest of the supporting cast, can step up their game, the Packers will have a solid shot at East and they’ll be in prime position to contend for another Big Nine title.