Posted On: 01/8/18 11:38 AM
OSKALOOSA — Pegged by us as the “Game of the Year” (so far at least), this battle between top four teams in Class 3A was competitive for about ten minutes on Friday night. Then No. 3 Oskaloosa made a statement, rolling to a win over No. 4 Norwalk, 87-52.
Oskaloosa jumped out to a quick 9-0 lead in the first 2:30, drawing a Norwalk timeout. Shortly after, a seemingly big development happened as Oskaloosa’s star sophomore Xavier Foster picked up his second foul and went to the bench for the rest of the half. Norwalk answered with an 11-1 run to take a brief lead before Oskaloosa’s 8-0 spurt gave them an 18-11 edge after the first quarter. After that, it was all Oskaloosa, taking a 39-21 lead into the break behind 22 first half points for Jarad Kruse.
Norwalk was able to get as close as 12 in the second half, but a sizzling fourth quarter (11-12 shooting, 6-6 3P), as well as Xavier Foster blocking everything in sight, allowed the Indians to eventually get this game to a running clock affair.
Oskaloosa (10-0) was led by Jarad Kruse, who had a game-high 27 points. He also added 11 rebounds. Rian Yates had 20 points off the bench (6-7 3P) and Xavier Foster added 15 points and eight blocks. The Indians have since been moved up to No. 1 in our Class 3A rankings.
Norwalk (8-1) was led by Luke Vaske, who had 24 points. Blake Johnson was the only other Warrior in double figures with 10 points. The Warriors were held well below their season averages of 84.4 points (52) and 55.8 FG% (28.3 FG%).
Norwalk: Luke Vaske 24, Blake Johnson 10, Bowen Born 7, Tyler Endres 6, Daniel Geistler 5
Oskaloosa: Jarad Kruse 27, Rian Yates 20, Xavier Foster 15, Cole Henry 9, Spencer Tucker 8, Tanner DeKock 6, Tucker Nunnikhoven 2
MVP: Jarad Kruse (Oskaloosa)
Many nights, the 6-5 senior forward ends up being the third option for the Indians behind Xavier Foster and Cole Henry. And he’s a phenomenal third option to have, as he displayed on Friday night. He’s a versatile offensive player who can score inside and out, rebounds at a very high level on both ends, and passes it well. Oskaloosa jumped out to an 18-point lead at halftime despite Foster playing only three first half minutes, and Kruse’s 22 points, eight rebounds and three assists in the first 16 minutes are the big reason why. He finished with 27 points (10-15 shooting), 11 rebounds and four assists on the night.
Best offensive performance: Jarad Kruse (Oskaloosa)
As touched on in the MVP section, Kruse was dominant throughout the game, and while he didn’t score much in the second half, it was because he didn’t need to. He showcased his remarkably efficient offensive arsenal, going 10-15 from the floor (including 3-4 from behind the arc), dishing out four assists and grabbing three offensive rebounds as part of his 11-rebound evening. He’s likely a small forward at the next level, and his ability to score inside and out should help him out tremendously there for a Division III program.
Best defensive performance: Xavier Foster (Oskaloosa)
The top-30 national prospect in the 2020 class blocked eight shots on the evening, despite only playing three minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. He combines freakish length with freakish athleticism, and the scary thing is that he’s still learning how to actually play defense. Give him another few years, and it’s going to be impossible to score against him. He’s the ultimate eraser at the back end of the Indians defense.
Play of the game: Xavier Foster’s dunks, take your pick
Foster had three huge dunks, and you can take your pick for which one was the best. The alley-oop from Tanner DeKock was nice, but the exclamation point windmill to get to a running clock was my personal favorite. It perfectly displayed his freakish size and athletic ability. It’s hard to believe this kid is only a sophomore. Take a look at the windmill here.
Best shooter: Rian Yates (Oskaloosa)
On a team loaded with quality shooters, it was Yates who showed himself to be the best on this night, going 6-7 from behind the arc and seemingly gaining more confidence with each shot. He does a nice job moving off the ball and finding spaces in the defense, largely in the corners, and he has a quick, smooth and consistent release. He was excellent in this game, improving himself from 43.3% from 51.4% (19-37 on the season) in the process.
Best player off the bench: Rian Yates (Oskaloosa)
The first player off the bench most nights for the Indians, Yates poured in 20 points in this one, going 7-10 from the floor (6-7 from the arc). He’s obviously not going to dump in 20 a night, but if he’s able to provide Oskaloosa with a consistent threat from the arc in addition to his stellar ball protection and distributing (34 assists to five turnovers this season), he’ll continue to be a highly valuable piece for them.
Best passer: Spencer Tucker (Oskaloosa)
The flashy 6-0 point guard dished out a game-high seven assists in the win. There are nights where he’ll be a big scorer, and others where he’ll be primarily a distributor, and this was a distributing night. He’s a great ball handler who does an excellent job probing the defense and using his ability to penetrate to draw the defense in, then find an open slasher or shooter. He’s a high-level point guard who values possessions and makes passes that few others in the state see.
Norwalk’s best: Luke Vaske
This isn’t a great matchup for the Warriors, as much of their offense is predicated on a pair of undersized guards (Vaske and Bowen Born) getting to the rim and scoring or getting fouled. Against Oskaloosa’s size, it’s tough for that style to work. But credit Vaske, he’s a bulldog and kept attacking the rim en route to 24 points. He only ended up shooting 6-19 from the floor, but he was without a doubt their best player, routinely attacking the rim and maintaining his aggressiveness throughout. He’s emerged this season as one of the state’s best all-around offensive players, and despite the poor shooting in a tough matchup, he proved he belongs among the state’s elites on that end.
Stat of the game: Oskaloosa’s fourth quarter shooting
The game was already likely in hand, as the Indians were up by 15 heading into the fourth quarter, but they were unreal in the final eight minutes, going 11-12 from the floor, including 6-6 from the arc. They got to a running clock late in the fourth quarter, which is something I never saw coming in a matchup between what were then the No. 3 and No. 4 teams in our 3A rankings. They were hitting everything they threw up, and playing with an unrivaled level of confidence.
Storyline to watch moving forward: How does Oskaloosa adjust to being the hunted
The Indians have moved up to No. 1 in our 3A rankings following this destruction, and deservedly so. They’ve got size, shooting, defense and an unbelievable amount of confidence in themselves. As the new “team to beat” in the class, they’re going to get team’s best shots every night, so it’ll be interesting to see how this still young team adjusts to that role of being top dog, but with the talent, versatility and swagger this group has, it’ll be tough to knock them off.