INDEPENDENCE — It took until the district finals to find out how North Linn’s boys’ basketball team would handle its first close game last season. It took until the district finals to find out how North Linn would handle its first close game this season.
Both just happened to be here on the same neutral court, with the answers to both turning out to exactly the same. Well enough to win.
A 10-0 run midway through the fourth quarter broke a tie and sent the second-ranked Lynx past Dike-New Hartford, 79-73, Tuesday night in a sublime game. North Linn (23-0) continues to defend its Class 2A state championship, drawing Forest City (16-7) in a Saturday night substate final at Cedar Falls.
“Really similar,” North Linn’s Austin Hilmer said. “But it was a lot different this year because we needed guys to step up who haven’t been in big games before. All those guys did great things. That’s good.”
North Linn hadn’t had a game closer than 19 points, which was kind of the same story as a year ago in this game, when the Lynx rallied from a halftime deficit to brush past Dyersville Beckman. But what was different this time around was there weren’t four seniors, including 2019 Mr. Basketball Jake Hilmer, to rely upon.
Austin Hilmer, the state’s leading assist man as just a sophomore, did a really good imitation of his older brother here, scoring a game-high 32 points and hitting some crucial free throws down the stretch. He played a large role on last year’s state championship team, as did senior Austin Miller, who had 27 points and 15 rebounds here.
The rest of the cast included four sophomores and a freshman.
“It was just a matter of our young guys coming alive at the end and filling their roles,” Miller said. “We haven’t played a close game. To have someone within two points, three points late in the fourth quarter, it was huge to see how they’d react. They reacted perfectly.”
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“Sometimes young guys don’t know enough to be afraid,” laughed North Linn Co-Coach Bob Hilmer.
Dike-New Hartford (18-5) led by seven points late in the second quarter, only to see North Linn go on a 10-0 run that gave it a 40-37 halftime lead. It was a 64-64 game with under four minutes to go, but Miller had an and-one off a lob play, Hilmer followed with two free throws, Miller scored on a putback and Dylan Kurt hit a 3-pointer that put it out of reach with 1:23 to go.
“We did a lot of things wrong,” North Linn Co-Coach Mike Hilmer said. “But we did a lot of things right.”
Both teams shot it extremely well (54 percent apiece, to be specific). Dike-New Hartford is a very quick and athletic team, which caused North Linn not to play its normal aggressive, full-court trapping defense.
Dane Fuller led the Wolverines with 22 points, with A.J. Wegener adding 20. Both are juniors, as is guard Zak Wauters, who came off the bench for four 3-pointers and 13 points.
By the way, North Linn is expected to drop back down to Class 1A next season.
“I was thinking ‘How’s everyone going to respond?’” Austin Hilmer said. “I had faith in all those guys, and they had faith in me. We knew we could do it.”
“The difference was we had four sophomores and a freshman this time, so that’s not easy to do,” Mike Hilmer said. “Pretty impressed by what everybody did.”
DIKE-NEW HARTFORD (73): Derek Kinney 0-3 0-0 0, Parker Kiewiet 5-9 0-0 11, Drew Sonnenberg 1-2 0-0 2, A.J. Wegener 8-14 4-6 20, Dane Fuller 11-18 0-0 22, Zak Wauters 4-6 1-1 13, Nathan Moore 1-3 0-0 3, Landen Sullivan 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 31-57 5-7 73.
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NORTH LINN (79): Dylan Kurt 3-10 0-0 9, Cade Haughenbury 2-3 1-1 5, Austin Miller 9-16 9-15 27, Austin Hilmer 11-20 7-7 32, Gunner Vanourney 0-0 0-0 0, Tate Haughenbury 0-0 0-0 0, Kaleb Kurt 2-2 0-2 4, Parker Bechen 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-52 17-25 79.
Halftime – North Linn 40, Dike-New Hartford 37. 3-point goals – Dike-New Hartford 6-20 (Kinney 0-3, Kiewiet 1-4, Wegener 0-1, Fuller 0-4, Wauters 4-6, Moore 1-2), North Linn 6-16 (D. Kurt 3-9, Hilmer 3-7). Rebounds – Dike-New Hartford 23 (Kiewiet 9), North Linn 30 (Miller 15). Total fouls – Dike-New Hartford 18, North Linn 11. Fouled out – None. Turnovers – Dike-New Hartford 10, North Linn 11.
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