The NRHEG boys’ basketball team lost in the consolation championship game of the Bethany Lutheran Holiday Classsic in Mankato Dec. 27-29.

The Panthers, who won one of three games, improved their record to 3-8 overall. They’re 1-4 in the Gopher Conference.

The Panthers fell 75-65 to St. Croix Lutheran in the opener Dec. 27.

St. Croix used pressure defense to force 14 NRHEG turnovers and take a 48-30 halftime lead.

“St. Croix did a nice job penetrating and back cutting and got numerous shots in the paint,” said Panthers coach Pat Churchill. “Their defense is in your face and aggressive. They play up the line and we were struggling to get into our offense. We were tentative and relaxed and they took it to us and got the big first-half lead.”

The Panthers improved in the second half, pulling within six at one point. But they got no closer.

“I told our kids at half that the time to be scared and expect something bad to happen was over and we were going to be the more aggressive team in the second half,” said Churchill. “We came out and got a couple of back cuts and became the more aggressive team. We played probably the best half of basketball we played all year. I was proud of our boys for they got after it and didn't pack it in. We just dug ourselves too big a hole again and we couldn't climb out of it.”

NRHEG individual leaders: Sam Lundberg 16 points, 11 rebounds, five assists; Lucas Meyer 13 points, three steals; Matt Carlson 13 points; Carter Tollefson 10 points; Tyler Sorenson nine points, five rebounds; Spencer Hanna three points; Nic Mangskau one point.

In consolation play the next day, the Panthers bested Minnesota Valley Lutheran 63-58, rallying from a sloppy first half and a 31-26 halftime deficit. NRHEG had 16 first-half turnovers.

“We kept it manageable,” said Churchill. “MVL has three 6-foot-4 players who are pretty physical and we did a nice job defensively in the first half. They got most of their points off of turnovers.”

Another halftime talk helped NRHEG.

“We told our kids to be more aggressive,” said Churchill.

The second half was a game of runs. NRHEG would take a lead, then MVL and it was back and forth until NRHEG took a six-point lead with three minutes to go. They made our free throws down the stretch to ice it.

Individual scoring: Carlson 26; Meyer 10; Lundberg seven; Hanna seven; Sorenson five; Tollefson four, Mangskau four.

Mankato Loyola topped NRHEG 64-52 in the consolation championship game. NRHEG led 28-24 at halftime.

“It was a very hard fought battle all night long,” said Churchill. “Loyola hit the big shots when they needed to and that is all the credit in the world to them. This was a team that beat us pretty good three weeks ago and to compete tonight the way we did I was very pleased with our boys tonight. It is a sign we are improving as a basketball team and that is what we want to be doing.”

Individual scoring: Sorenson 20; Carlson 13; Tollefson eight; Lundberg seven; Meyer four.

The Panthers host Hayfield Saturday at 7:30 p.m.