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Bench Press: Packer reserves step up in win over Cougars

Everything went wrong for the No. 5-ranked Austin boys basketball team in the first few minutes against No. 3-ranked Mankato East, but the Packers turned to their bench and they turned up the heat as they went on to beat the Cougars 71-59 and move into a first place in the Big Nine standings in Packer Gym Thursday.

East (15-3 overall, 12-2 Big Nine) surged to a 6-0 lead but it didn’t last for long as LaHenry Gills converted a three-point play to bring the Packers within 8-7 and Teyghan Hovland hit a three-pointer to put Austin up for good at 11-10. Moses Idris also scored all nine of his points in the first half to propel Austin to a 39-32 lead at the break.

Austin’s Teyghan Hovland works against Mankato East’s Jordan Merseth in the first half Thursday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“I felt LaHenry Gills really played well tonight, I thought Moses Idris gave us an offensive spark in the first half and I thought Teyghan was solid as usual,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “Those three guys did their job tonight.”

Gills finished with 10 points and four assists as he played with reckless abandonment around the rim to charge up the offense. The Packers (14-4 overall, 13-2 Big Nine) were coming off a six-day break but they didn’t show a lot of rust once they got going.

“We came out knowing that we had to be ready to play. We had intensity from the jump,” Gills said. “When I have energy, the whole team has energy and I just try to keep that going and keep playing hard.”

Austin’s Ngor Deng with an eye to the hoop in the first half against Mankato East Thursday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Idris, a junior forward, has been finding his footing this season in just his third year of playing organized basketball. On Thursday he was able to create offense from the arc and on a drive to the hoop.

“The coaches have been teaching me a lot of stuff,” Idris said. “I just keep on learning and keep on playing. Coaches are always telling me to stay confident in my game and to keep on playing hard.”

Austin head coach Kris Fadness said that Idris has made big strides so far, but the team still needs him to play a little more in the paint.

Austin’s LaHenry Gills works against Mankato East’s Grant Hermer in the first half Thursday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“I view (Moses) as a raw basketball player. He’s a tremendous athlete. He can jump out of the gym, he’s long and he’s physical,” Fadness said. “We’re still trying to teach him how to play. He does a lot of good things and he does some bad things. It’s growing pains. We’re trying to get him to do some of the dirty work. He’s got to be a rebounder, a defender and a screen setter at times.”

Ngor Deng finished with 11 points for Austin, despite fouling out with 9:19 left in the game, and Agwa Nywesh added 11 points.

The Packers forced 20 turnovers on the Cougars, who were playing without a key player in Ryan Kuechle.

Austin will now play in eight games over the next 14 days and seven of those games are conference contests.

“We’re just trying to worry about one game at a time,” Gills said. “We’re staying focused.”

Austin’s Moses Idris eyes the hoop along the baseline against Mankato East in the first half Thursday night in Packer Gym. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

East 32  27    59

Austin 39  32    71

Austin scoring: Gavin Owens, 11; Ngor Deng, 11; Agwa Nywesh, 11; LaHenry Gills, 10; Moses Idris, 9; Dongrin Deng, 8; Teyghan Hovland, 6; Medi Obang, 5; free throws: 67 percent (12-for-18); rebounds: 20 (Idris, 4); turnovers: 11