Kerstiens, Jeeps reset their dials to aggressive

Photos by Alisha Jucevic/The Herald
Northeast Dubois junior Alan Kerstiens shot a free throw Friday night in Oakland City, where Kerstiens poured in 26 points in the second half and 30 for the night to help the Jeeps push past Tecumseh 55-47 in the Class 1A sectional semifinals. The Jeeps return to Wood Memorial at 7:30 EST tonight to tangle with the fifth-ranked host Trojans in the championship. For more photos from Northeast Dubois' sectional win against Tecumseh, click here.


OAKLAND CITY — Sometimes, words can’t properly describe a performance.


So when Northeast Dubois coach Terry Friedman was trying to characterize a 30-point effort from junior guard Alan Kerstiens to propel the Jeeps past Tecumseh 55-47 and into tonight’s Class 1A sectional championship, he couldn’t quite capture it.

“He was pretty good,” Friedman said. “That might be an understatement.”

Even as Kerstiens proceeded to score 26 points in the second half Friday night in Oakland City, he never showed any sign of breaking out. So after a sluggish opening two quarters that left the Jeeps trailing 22-20, nobody really possessed an inkling of what was coming. The Jeeps tried rallying themselves in the locker room at halftime, but Friedman said he couldn’t have guessed what Kerstiens was on the verge of doing.

Junior guard Alex Harder first caught on when Kerstiens sank a turnaround jumper on the first Jeep possession of the second half.

“‘He usually doesn’t shoot that, he must be feeling pretty comfortable,’” Harder recalled thinking at the time. “Then he hit two big 3s and that was really whenever you know he’s for real this time.”

That first 3-pointer brought the Jeeps (13-11) within a point. The second inched Northeast Dubois in front 30-28 with 2:30 remaining in the third quarter for its first lead since the opening frame. The feed came from Marshall Knies, who was able to pounce on an offensive rebound before finding Kerstiens on the wing. Knies finished with four rebounds (all offensive) and three assists and delivered a spark off the bench for the second consecutive game, Friedman said.

In total, Kerstiens hit four shots from behind the arc to counteract four 3-pointers by Tecumseh’s Carson White, who finished with 13 points. Many of Kerstiens’ 3s came after Harder drove and kicked the ball out. Other times, Harder challenged the Braves (6-17) himself.

Harder finished with seven points, and even the shots he missed weren’t all bad. In one instance, an attempt by Harder rimmed out, but the attention he attracted allowed Griffen Bauer to snag the rebound before being fouled. Bauer, who finished with nine points, converted both free throws to push the Jeeps ahead 42-38 with 3:56 left in the game.

On the occasions Harder passed out of the crowded lane, he had a bevy of open options on the perimeter to choose from. Even if it wasn’t Kerstiens who immediately received the pass, the ball eventually found its way into his hands.

“If you penetrate in the lane and they do collapse on you, that’s the guy you look for,” Harder said. “You know he’s going to be open and I want him to take that shot.”

Kerstiens described the top-scoring game of his career much simpler.

“I was just trying to get open,” he said.

His coach has a different perspective. Friedman said as the second half progressed, he started to see a player determined to extend his season for at least another night. Kerstiens started forcing the offense, Friedman said, and attacking the Braves before they got their bearings defensively.

“We knew we had to pick up the pace out of halftime,” Kerstiens said. “We didn’t come out very strong so we knew we had to pick up the pace.”

Reece Helming of Northeast Dubois (center) encouraged Alan Kerstiens as they left the locker room along with Eli Schott before Friday’s semifinal.

Even with the Jeeps owning a lead late — a time when most teams hold onto the ball and wait for a foul to come — the Jeeps collectively continued to force the issue.

On four possessions in the last two minutes, Kerstiens broke toward the opposite basket once a Brave took a shot. Twice, Reece Bauer was able to corral the rebound, turn and heave the ball toward Kerstiens for a layup. Another time, it was Harder playing the role of quarterback.

After that, Steven Molinet (11 points) converted a layup to slice the lead to 52-47 with 16 seconds remaining, but no Tecumseh player accounted for Kerstiens, leaving him free to catch another pass from Reece Bauer for a final bucket to hit the 30-point mark with nine seconds remaining.

“We’re always told to keep pushing until you have to when that last buzzer goes off.” Kerstiens said. “We just keep pushing.”

Awaiting Northeast Dubois in the sectional final tonight at 7:30 p.m. EST is No. 5 Wood Memorial (20-5). In the past two seasons, the Jeeps have watched the Trojans end their season in the sectional.

Northeast Dubois took the Blue Chip Conference champs to overtime Jan. 28 in Dubois, but eventually fell 64-59. That night, though, the Jeeps didn’t have Harder, who watched from behind the bench with a broken hand. Northeast Dubois will also be hoping the determined Kerstiens from the second half is back for a repeat performance.

“What I saw was a guy who was not going to let his team down,” Friedman said. “He was not going to let his teammates down. He was going to do everything he could to win this game.”

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