STATE BASKETBALL: Eagles headed to Target Center and Class A semifinals with 59-41 win over GreyhoundsMINNEAPOLIS — If the Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team is at all superstitious, the way the day started for them yesterday was probably not a good sign.
MINNEAPOLIS — If the Southwest Christian boys’ basketball team is at all superstitious, the way the day started for them yesterday was probably not a good sign.
The morning of the Eagles’ state quarterfinal game against Fosston Thursday, 18 members of the SWC team got stuck in an elevator at the YMCA near the University of Minnesota campus.
The elevator — which was on the first floor at the time —dropped to the service level and the fire department had to be called to rescue the Eagles from the contraption.
Luckily, the entrapment wasn’t a bad omen for SWC as the team went on later that afternoon to defeat the Greyhounds 59-41 and earn the Eagles a spot in the state semifinals today.
“Yeah, it was quite the experience,” SWC senior Zach Huisken said. “We had the fire trucks come out and we took pictures with them and we had a little fun. We were stuck in there for about 20 minutes. With 18 guys in there it started getting kind of hot, but they luckily got us out pretty quick. And we won the game, so we’re pretty excited about that too.”
However, at the very start of the game it looked as though the elevator incident may have been a bad omen after all.
The No. 2 seed in the tournament, SWC, found itself down 8-2 with 13:57 left in the first half. But that slow start would quickly reverse itself and the Eagles would never look back.
Three minutes later, SWC tied the game at 8-all on a 3-pointer by Keeran Sampson.
The Eagles then went on a 21-9 run to close out the half and make the score 29-17 at halftime, topped off with a 3-pointer by Damon Vander Maten with seven seconds left.
“I think part of that was just getting the pre-game jitters out of the way—bigger floor, bigger space behind the hoops, bigger arena, brighter lights,” Huisken said. “So it was just adjusting and falling back into our defense and our comfort zone. In the second half we knew what we had to do and we came out and did it.”
The second half started out completely different than the first half did. Six minutes into the half, SWC had held Fosston to just two points, extending the Eagles lead to 25 points (44-19) with 12 minutes left in the game.
And although it was the Greyhounds who finished the game with a big run—going 22-15 in those final 12 minutes—the damage had already been done.
“I thought we played a pretty nice game,” SWC head coach Jamie Pap said. “We didn’t get off to the start that we probably wanted to, but I think the guys did a great job of battling back. We talked about that at halftime that we didn’t like the way the game started, so let’s make sure we control how the second half starts.
“I thought our defense was tremendous. I thought defensively, holding a state tournament team to 41 points, I think that’s pretty good.”
The Eagles finished the game with 38 rebounds—29 of which were defensive—compared to 31 Greyhound rebounds, of which only 16 were defensive.
SWC also forced 15 turnovers, compared to 11 by Fosston; nine blocked shots, compared to just three by the Greyhounds and the Eagles stole the ball four times.
SWC held its opponent to a 29.3 shooting percentage from the field, just 18.8 percent from 3-point range.
And it’s those kind of numbers that had the team buzzing after the game.
“Defense was our strong point tonight, as it should be every night,” Huisken said. “That’s what kept us in the game, won the game, everything. Offensively sometimes we’re going to miss a shot, but defense we know won’t let us down. We always have that to fall back on and everyone played really good defense today.”
Not that the Eagles played poor offensively, by any means.
SWC was led by Huisken’s 15 points, 14 rebounds and six blocks. Andrew Top added 11 points and four rebounds, while Sampson had nine points and two rebounds.
But just like his athlete, Pap was more thrilled with the team’s defensive play than its offensive accomplishments.
“I thought Zach did a great job of rebounding tonight,” Pap said. “He was getting hounded pretty hard on the offensive end. I don’t know how many rebounds he ended up with, but he had to have had a ton. I thought he did a great job of altering shots and keeping us together on defense.”
Fosston (24-5) was led by Kyle Arneson’s 12 points, three rebounds and five steals. Taylor Carlson added 10 points and eight rebounds, while Seth Carlin had 10 points and four rebounds.
With the victory, SWC (27-1) will take on No. 3 seed Rushford-Peterson (25-5) at 2 p.m. today at the Target Center. The winner will advance to the Class A championship game, while the loser will play in the third-place contest.
The Eagles have a 21-game winning streak on the line that dates back to Jan. 6. And if the team continues its “defense first, offense next” mantra, SWC is hoping to extend that streak by at least one more game.
“Just compete, that’s all we can ask of our team right now,” Huisken said. “Just play every minute and play to the end of the buzzer and hopefully we can come away with a win again. That’s all we can ask for right now.”
FHS 17 24 — 41
SWC 29 30 — 59
FHS (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) K. Arneson 0-6-0-12, Carlson 0-5-0-10, Carlin 2-2-0-10, A. Arneson 1-0-0-3, Viken 0-1-4-6. Total 3-14-4-41.
SWC (3FG-2FG-FT-TP) Knutson 2-0-0-6, Top 1-3-2-11, Nibbelink 0-1-0-2, Sampson 1-3-0-9, Huisken 0-5-5-15, Schelhaas 1-0-0-3, Vander Maten 2-0-0-6, Talsma 0-3-1-7. Total 7-15-8-59.
Daily Globe Sports Reporter Jocelyn Syrstad can be reached at 376-7335.