Boys basketball: Trojans enjoying a new lease on life
WORTHINGTON — It takes a mighty powerful high school offense to score 55 points in a half.
“It was our defense that created those (points). That translated to some easy shots on the other end,” said WHS head boys basketball coach Jared Keaveny Wednesday afternoon, less than a day after his Trojans overcame a 12-point halftime deficit to upset favored Willmar 92-88 in the first round of the Section 2AAA tournament in Willmar.
Not all those baskets were easy. There were a few three-point shots mixed in there, too, and just as many clutch free throws, as the Trojans outscored the Cardinals 55-39 in the second half to set up Saturday’s 7:45 p.m. semifinal contest against Mankato West at Taylor Center, Minnesota State University, in Mankato.
By now, Worthington’s unusual, sometimes agonizing season has been well documented. Near-misses have been many. Flashes of brilliance have lit up area courts throughout the season, but just as many dimmer moments have been seen, too. So when the 8-14 and sixth-seeded Trojans took on the third-seeded Cardinals on Tuesday — a team they’d already lost to during the regular season — the odds didn’t appear promising.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they didn’t give a flying field goal about their odds.
Confidence was high going into the game, said Trojans seniors Marcus Potter and Carter Lindner Wednesday afternoon after practice. And it paid dividends.
“I just thought we had great energy. We played great team defense, which we hadn’t done all season. We were moving the ball well and talking to each other, too,” said Potter, who complemented teammate Spencer Grafing’s 30 points with a 23-point effort of his own. “It also felt like we were playing for something last night. It felt like we wanted to be there.”
If the Trojans hadn’t saved their best performance of the season for when it counted most, their 2013-14 campaign would have ended in a lot of would-a’s and should-a’s.
But instead, they’re excited, confident, and looking forward to their next big test.
“It would have been a huge letdown (to lose Tuesday),” Lindner said. “We always had such high expectations.”
Keaveny, toiling in his first year with the Trojans, has often stated that when his players perform consistently on defense, they can play with anyone. And, indeed, their outstanding athletic talent has been evident to even the most casual fan. But they have performed sporadically at times. They lost several close games.
On Wednesday, however, Keaveny said the team matured throughout the season “in that they’ve all taken a step back.”
That ability to reassess their approach led to Tuesday’s results. It was the team’s one last opportunity to turn things around.
“I think that was the big thing. They didn’t want to go out like that,” said Keaveny, adding, “The last couple of games, it’s been, ‘Where can we get the best shot?’ Not just ‘How can I get my best shot.’”
Lindner chalked it up to a learning experience.
“Any time you start with a new system, there are going to be things that you have to work out. It was just a hump we had to get over,” he said.
As Wednesday afternoon’s practice session was about to end, the Trojans finished with an informal free throw contest. And an easy laughter reverberated around the gymnasium walls. This is a team that feels it has finally met expectations. It’s a team that knows it rose to the biggest occasion of its season thus far.
Said Potter, “I’m just glad we can get another chance to perform together, especially on the big stage.”