A Season Of Growth & Learning
Coach Chad Miller Reviews The Season That Was For His Longhorn Hoopsters
March 9, 2023
This 2022-2023 boys basketball season was one of growth and learning of what it takes to play at a higher level. We knew coming in that the potential talent was going to make for an exciting year, however, players were going to need to buy into a culture that embraced higher standards and take on roles that may push them out of their comfort zones for the betterment of the team as a whole. Raising the bar started with preseason benchmarks and a "Longhorn 150 Challenge" that involves each player having to make 100 full court layups and 50 free throws for time. This challenge tested just how conditioned they were coming into the season as well as their basic skills of strong and off hand layups from different angles and their free throw accuracy when tired. It also tested mental and emotional strength by how players would react when feeling pressure put on them or having to deal with frustrating circumstances in the midst of competition. Anyone wanting to make the varsity team or be considered for a starting role would then need to hit certain benchmarks in these challenges. This let the players know right away that this season was going to be different, that we were raising the bar and holding each other accountable for those higher standards moving forward within the program.
These standards along with conditioning workouts I believe proved very beneficial from the start. We were able to put together a win vs. Alliance in our very first Hall of Fame Jamboree preseason game 56-48 and showed how exciting and successful we could be this season. Winning that game was a huge boost to our players and us as coaches by giving us that much needed validation that if we continue to work hard that opportunities to make some noise would be a very possible.
The official season started off with a hard fought Bayard loss and then another loss to a very talented and experienced Leyton team. These losses showed us that we were still not where we wanted to be in terms of rushing and turning the ball over, however, they brought light on what we were strong at and what we needed to keep improving upon. Perkins County was another hard fought loss but the next game versus Morrill things started to click defensively in the second half. We were able to hold Morrill to just 6 points in the second half and go on to defeat them 68-31. This was our first win of the official season and even though many were not surprised we had won, we may have shocked some of just how well our players executed on the defensive side of the ball. Unbeknownst to many, that game we switched to a type of defense in the second half without ever going over it in practice. We drew it up and the players executed it very well. This ability to execute a defensive strategy without going over it in practice built trust amongst the staff and players that would play huge dividends in one of the biggest wins of the season to come.
We finished the first part of the season 1-4 before the Christmas break but things were definitely looking up for this young squad. Most everyone bought into the work that it would take over the break to keep moving forward and our attendance was very high as players held themselves and each other accountable for making the necessary improvements to keep moving forward.
Out of the break we played a couple of smaller schools and picked up two much needed wins to start the new year off right before going into a tough stretch of playing some tried and tested opponents. Chase County played strong and showed us we still had a ways to go to get to that top level we are striving for but just three days later we played a strong Potter-Dix team very close and then played a strong Bridgeport team within 5 points at their place. Kyler was too ill to play the next night vs. a tough Gordon-Rushville team but our young team played hard and really had a very good first half before losing by 31. Little did we know at the time we would have two more cracks at Gordon-Rushville this season. The SPVA tournament was next and we once again showed just how much improvement we had made since the winter break. We played Perkins Co. once again and this time pushed them to the very end coming out with a 3 point loss. We then took on Sutherland to pick up our 4th win of the season and played Hershey for the second time with another close nail biter and a 2 point loss. Close games with Potter-Dix, Bridgeport, Perkins Co., and Hershey were all tough losses for this young team of ours, but instead of feeling sorry for ourselves and packing it in we stayed focused and studied what advantages we could maybe exploit from our opponents moving forward.
We played Sutherland again for our 5th win of the season and then played the #1 D-1 team in the state in North Platte St. Pats before going into the Western Trails Conference tournament. We were the #6 seed going in to tournament and when we went into Bayard to take on the #3 seed things just seemed to click on all aspects. This was probably the best night we had all season when it came to shooting and defensive intensity. We dominated on the boards limiting our opponents to just one shot and transitioned well on both ends of the court ending with a 73-29 win to a team that we had previously lost to earlier in the season. Next up was #2 seeded Bridgeport in the semi-finals. This game was back and forth all game long with us falling behind by as much as 8 points in the 3rd quarter. We then decided to once again trust our players to execute a defense that we had never gone over in practice. We needed to stop the bleeding and even though it took two timeouts to eventually get comfortable on just what everyone's assignments would be, we played very aggressively and went on an 8-0 run of our own to tie the game going into the 4th quarter. Our leading scorer however, Brandon Paxton, fouled out late in the 3rd quarter and just when it looked as though we might be outmatched the rest of the way, our players came together and stayed focused. The 4th quarter started with some more back and forth basket for basket but then we were able to put together several consecutive stops while Kyler Lusche was able to hit a free throw and Ryker Behrend was able to convert on a full court transition layup over a taller defender to put us up by 3. A time out was called and then we discussed if we were able to extend this lead to a two possession game that Bridgeport would have a difficult time coming back. We then were able to get a steal on the next Bridgeport possession and Braxton Miller was able to extend the lead to 6, 58-52, with a 3 pointer at the top of the key. With approximately 3:30 left in the game we knew that we would need to limit them to just one shot and that is just what we were able to do.
Head Coach Chad Miller's season-in-review report continues in next week's March 16 edition of the Observer.
Turnovers and missed free throws on our end kept the game close and they were able to get the lead back down to 1 with just 45 seconds to go.
However, our next possession saw us break their full court pressure as Bransyn Kiefer found Kyler Lusche on a half court pass in which Kyler was able to convert for an "and-one" layup and free throw and put us back up for good 62-58. This game showed just how far we had come as a team this season and earned our first opportunity in the WTC championship game in 9 seasons.
The championship game against Gordon-Rushville was not exactly what we had planned but it was a great experience for our young team. Unfortunately, Brandon Paxton suffered an injury that would require him to wear a face guard for the rest of the season and have him sit out a couple of games.
Right after an exciting 3 days of basketball ending on Saturday we were right back at it with defending 2A Wyoming state champions, Pine Bluffs. After falling behind by 14 in the 1st quarter we were able to settle down and play them even in the 2nd. Pine Bluffs just proved to be too much in the end but it was a good tune up for the last stretch of the season. Unfortunately, Brandon was out for our next game versus Hemingford and we seemed all out of sorts. Braxton also fouled out early in the 3rd which put us even more shorthanded. Ryker Behrend and Trevor Fuss were asked to play significantly more minutes in a tough game that saw us being pressed most of the game. Defensively we needed to get back into the game as were down 21 at half so we decided we were going to start full court man to man pressing our opponents so they could not stall. We wanted to cut to the lead to 10 by the end of the 3rd and were able to right after the 4th. However, Hemingford shot the ball extremely well and were able to extend the lead back to 20. Fortunately for us we did not have to wait long before our next contest to get that disappointment out of our systems. We played Minatare and it was a record setting afternoon. In the 1st quarter alone we ended up hitting 7 three pointers on our way to scoring 35 in the quarter. Kyler had over 20 going into the second and his teammates started thinking about trying to get him into the top scoring for a game. Once the dust settled Kyler Lusche ended the night with 42 setting the new record for most points in a game. The teams 85 points scored was the most scored since the running clock area and Landon Norberg came off the bench to have a great 4th quarter scoring 9 points for his career high. Braxton's 11 assists and 5 three points put him tied for 3rd for assists in a game and tied for 4th for three pointers in a game.
Minatare's win put us back into the right frame of mind going into to last week of the regular season. Mitchell was on the schedule that following Friday and even though we had not beaten Mitchell in 8 seasons, we played them well in the first half and were able to hold onto the 2 point victory in the end. Wyatt Cords had a good game with 10 points, Kyler was huge on the boards with 15 rebounds and 15 points, and Brandon had his first game back from injury with a 20 point game. This was our 9 victory of the season and put it in reach to get double digit wins for only the 3rd time in the last nine years.
Post season sub-districts were that following Monday and we once again matched up with Bayard. The first quarter was back and forth but we were able to outscore our opponent by 12 in the 2nd. However, Bayard shot the ball better and their leading scorer was able to knock down some three pointers to keep them in the game. Our players stayed tough though and were able to get that 10th victory winning 53-45 and moving on to the sub-district championship where Gordon-Rushville would be waiting once again. The championship game started off with us trying to match our opponent's basket for basket but eventually they were able to take advantage of our mistakes and slowly build a steady lead. We eventually lost but a thought we had played our best game against them and had a lot to build upon going into next season.
This was one of those seasons that you hated to end but we will continue to improve this off season and go at it again next winter. The improvements from one season to the next can be significant if we keep working hard and working on the little things that matter when trying to go from a good team to a great one.
This season saw us have some pretty good record setting performances on a team and individual basis. Below are some of those performances:
Most Points Scored since the Running Clock Era (Nov 2013) and top 10 all-time – 85
Tied for 6th all-time in points allowed in a game – 21
2nd all-time for most average rebounds per game – 34.6
3rd all-time for most three-pointers in a season – 128
2nd all-time for most blocks in a season – 128
Most points scored in a game – Kyler Lusche (42)
Most points scored in a season – Kyler Lusche 8th (403), Brandon Paxton 13th (386)
Most field goals scored in a game – Kyler Lusche (19), Brandon Paxton tied for 7th (12)
Most free throws made in a game – Brandon Paxton tied for 5th (11)
Most free throws made in a season – Brandon Paxton tied for 8th (72)
Best free throw percentage in a season – Ryker Behrend 11th (73.7%)
Most three pointers in a game – Kyler Lusche and Braxton Miller tied for 4th (5)
Most three pointers in a season – Kyler Lusche 10th (33), Wyatt Cords 16th (27), Braxton Miller 17th (26)
Most rebounds in a game – Brandon Paxton tied for 4th (18), Kyler Lusche tied for 7th (15)
Most rebounds in a season – Kyler Lusche tied for 5th (230), Brandon Paxton 7th (229)
Most steals in a game – Kyler Lusche tied for 1st (10), Brandon Paxton tied for 5th (6)
Most steals in a season – Kyler Lusche 8th (58)
Most assists in a game – Braxton Miller tied for 3rd (11), Kyler Lusche tied for 6th (7)
Most assists in a season – Braxton Miller 2nd (125)
Most blocks in a game – Brandon Paxton 1st (11), Kyler Lusche tied for 7th (5)
Most blocks in a season – Brandon Paxton 2nd (75), Kyler Lusche tied for 5th (36)
Most double-doubles in a season – Kyler Lusche 2nd (14), Brandon Paxton 3rd (11) Braxton Miller 7th (1)
Most triple-doubles in a season – Brandon Paxton tied for 1st (1)
Highest VPS rating in a game – Braxton Miller 5.43 vs Bridgeport WTC, Bandon Paxton 3.33 vs. Banner Co., Wyatt Cords 2.88 vs. North Platte St. Pats
Highest VPS rating in a season – Brandon Paxton 1.37, Braxton Miller 1.36, Kyler Lusche 1.30
Longhorn 150 Challenge – Braxton Miller 24:40.79, Braylon Miller 24:51.42, Kyler Lusche 25:00.34