Austin rides 'Big Three' past Rockets

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AUSTIN — It helps when you've got three guys like that.

One of those "big three," Zach Wessels, describes himself and fellow guards Bret Lukes and Ajuda Nywesh as "the best trio of guards in the state."

You likely wouldn't get much argument from the Rochester John Marshall boys basketball team. Wessels, Lukes and Nywesh were the difference Friday night — as they so often are — as the Packers downed JM 58-55 in a battle of Big Nine Conference powers in a raucous Austin gymnasium.

Both teams entered the game unbeaten in conference play. Now, Austin, backed by that backcourt, stands alone atop the Big Nine at 7-0 (11-3 overall). JM is 7-1 and 11-3.

"Our guards are skilled, they all have great first steps, and all three of them can shoot it," Austin coach Kris Fadness said.


Wessels, the best playmaker in the Big Nine, knows just how difficult his undersized team is to match up against. Austin starts nobody taller than 6-foot-4 Noah Brehmer. But it doesn't seem to matter much. Not when Wessels, Lukes and Nywesh — who combined for 43 points, including four 3-pointers — are penetrating, hitting 3's, and dishing.

"Teams have to choose which one of us to concentrate on," Wessels said. "Plus, we don't care which one of us scores. We just want to win. Stats don't matter to us."

This game mattered plenty to both teams, as each was trying to lay claim to king of the Big Nine. Austin also wanted something else. It was to get the sour taste that had lingered since last Saturday, when Class AA Caledonia came to town and beat the Class AAA and No. 4-ranked Packers.

"This was a big game, because I really was bothered by the way we played (against Caledonia)," Fadness said.

For almost the entire night against JM, except for some late turnovers and missed foul shots, Fadness loved what he saw.

JM coach Kirk Thompson wasn't nearly as pleased with his team. While the Rockets got excellent play from a few players, especially 6-foot-10 center Ngor Barnaba who scored 20 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, there just wasn't enough balance there. Forward Michael Hurt managed 10 points, but he was the only other Rocket in double figures.

"We need to get more people to score," Thompson said.

The Rockets also have to do a better job of taking care of the basketball. They turned it over 19 times against Austin and its vaunted 1-2-2 defense, eight of them in the first 10 minutes as the Packers built a 19-10 lead.


JM didn't give up, though. Far from it. It narrowly stayed within striking range all game. It had Austin's lead trimmed to 28-24 at halftime.

Much later in the contest, after Lukes had scored five straight points for Austin and Wessels hit a driving shot, the Packers led 58-47 and seemed to have things in hand once and for all.

But JM showed its will, doing it behind the penetrating scoring of point guard Deonte Moore and a flurry of forced Austin turnovers. Austin led just 58-55 after Moore hit a free throw with 27 seconds remaining. Nywesh followed that by missing the front end of a one-and-one chance.

JM had one last shot at it. Actually, it had three last shots at it on its last possession, but missed them all, each from 3-point range.

Austin 58, John Marshall 55


Deonte Moore 6, Kyle Gossman 7, Ngor Barnaba 20, Emerson Gonyea 8, Brady Tuckner 2, Ross Faber 2, Michael Hurt 10.



Ajuda Nywesh 15, Bret Lukes 14, Curtis Oberbroeckling 2, Gach Gach 5, Nik Gasner 4, Noah Brehmer 4, Zach Wessels 14.

Halftime:AUST 28, JM 24.

Free throws:JM 10-17, AUST 8-16.

Three-point goals:JM 3 (Gossman 1, Gonyea 2), AUST 5 (Lukes 1, Nywesh 3, Gasner 1).

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