Sheldon, Walton lead Lynx to 2nd at Husky Shootout
KOTZEBUE — Make no mistake about it, the Noatak Lynx hated walking off the floor on Saturday evening with a loss to the second-ranked Unalakleet Wolfpack in the championship game of the 2018 Husky Shootout.
Despite the tough 60-56 loss, Noatak head coach Brianna Kirk was hardly upset with her team. In fact, she said her team relished the opportunity to compete against some of the state's larger programs in front of a large, raucous crowd in the Dawghouse.
"This was a much anticipated game for us," said Kirk, who had guided the Lynx to a perfect 15-0 mark prior to facing Unalakleet. "We haven't played them in four or five years, but we knew we had a tough game ahead of us. Really, we wanted to win as bad as anyone else, but it was a lot of fun for us to get to play them.
"I'm really proud of this team and where it is going," she added.
Where the Lynx found themselves headed Saturday was into the Husky Shootout as the 2018 runner-up. The smallest school in the tournament, Noatak finished the three-day meet with an impressive 2-1 mark against a pair of Class 3A programs in Kotzebue and Nome and a perennial 2A state power in Unalakleet.
Aiden Ivanoff and Arctic Ivanoff helped Unalakleet weather a balanced scoring attack by Noatak in the first quarter. A sophomore guard, Aiden buried a game-opening three-pointer and helped the Wolfpack sprint to a quick 9-4 lead before the Lynx managed to get its offense untracked. Trailing by five with 5:28 left in the first Kenneth Walton gave Noatak a lift by pushing in a shot from in the paint. Moments later he dropped in a reverse layup from the baseline to pull Noata to within 13-10.
Unalakleet responded with a run of its own, reeling off a 7-3 spree that opened its lead to 20-13.
Amos Sage brought the Lynx back. The sophomore ended the Wolfpack's run by throwing in a three-pointer with 16 seconds left in the frame. Kobie Norton tacked on a free throw in the closing seconds to pull Noatak within 20-17 at the start of the second.
Walton led all Noatak scorers in the first quarter with six points.
Robert Sheldon took control of the Lynx offense in the second. The junior guard scored 10 of his game-high 22 points in the frame and helped engineer a 17-11 run that sent the Lynx into the half with a 34-31 advantage.
Unalakleet, which was ranked No. 2 in the latest Alaska Association of Basketball Coaches' poll, crept closer to Noatak in the third. The Wolfpack outscored the Lynx by a slim 8-6 clip in the first eight minutes of the second half and went into the fourth down 40-39.
Sheldon scored four of Noatak's six third-quarter points.
The Lynx looked as if they had weathered Unalakleet's run early in the fourth. Sheldon knocked in a pair of quick baskets to open the frame and built Noatak's lead to five, at 44-39. Walton followed less than a minute later with a baseline jumper that put Noatak up 46-41 with 6:03 left in regulation.
Unfortunately for the Lynx, Aiden Ivanoff heated up from the outside. He capped a 13-8 UHS run with 3:13 left by tossing up his fifth trey of the game — a shot that knotted the score at 54-54.
Unalakleet wrapped a pair of baskets around a shot from Joel Onalik over the ensuing two minutes and held a slim 58-56 lead with less than a minute left.
Unfortunately for Noatak, Arctic Ivanoff managed to sink a pair of free throws with five seconds left to seal the contest. Walton, Onalik and Levi Mills all finished with eight points for Noatak. Sage added seven.
Despite the loss, Kirk said her team would only benefit from the experience.
"We learned a lot about our team playing here, and I think that is going to help us later on." she said.
Noatak proved its ability to compete with almost anyone in the first two rounds of the tournament. The Lynx defeated Kotzebue by a narrow 62-60 margin in the first round on Thursday. They followed that with a 71-57 romp over Nome-Beltz on Friday.
Noatak is scheduled to return to action this weekend when they face off with rival Selawik.
The Kotzebue Huskies finished fourth in the round-robin tournament despite a solid showing. The Huskies went 0-2 overall, including a 65-31 loss to rival Nome-Beltz on Saturday.
Kotzebue certainly held its own against Noatak in the first round, fighting to within a bucket before falling 62-60. They suffered a 56-38 loss to Unalakleet in the second round.
Kotzebue, now 2-11 overall, will compete in the Homer Winter carnival tournament this weekend.