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Les Knutson: Dramatic finish capped exciting state tournament

Les Knutson

Daily Globe sports columnist 

MINNEAPOLIS — Trailing by four points with 22 seconds remaining at Target Center Saturday night, Lakeville North sophomore guard Drew Stewart caught a pass in the left corner and drilled a three-pointer — and was clearly fouled on the shot — bringing the Panthers within one (82-81) of perennial power Hopkins in the Class AAAA high school boys’ state basketball championship game.

The left-handed Stewart went to the free throw line with a chance to complete a four-point play and tie the score as thousands of anti-Hopkins fans were hoping he would do just that.

His missed shot caromed high off the rim — over the reach of the inside Hopkins rebounders — and was plucked up by 6-4 junior forward Connor Flack who muscled the ball through the Royals’ defenders and banked in the putback. Much of the large crowd cheered as the quick five-point swing lifted LN to an 83-82 edge.

A missed Hopkins three-pointer was followed by a scramble for the long rebound, which ended up in a jump ball call. The possession arrow favored the Panthers and Stewart was quickly fouled. With seven seconds left, he made the first free throw — but missed the second.

Another three-point shot attempt by the Royals wasn’t close as the final buzzer sounded on the 2013-14 boys’ season in Minnesota with Lakeville North winning the big-school title, 84-82, over Hopkins — which had won three straight crowns from ‘09-11.

With warmer weather outside and large amounts of snow and ice finally melting, the four days of action in Minneapolis winded up a long (and cold) winter, which began for high school boys’ basketball players in the state with the first practice back on Monday, Nov. 11 — Veteran’s Day.

In between times, there was a lot of action in gymnasiums all across Minnesota which culminated last week with 32 teams making it to the state tournament.

Unfortunately, only 16 of those squads earned the right to play three games, including at least one televised contest.

Chad, Logan, “Chum”

see 18 games in four days

While my son Lucas and I were not able to get to the tournament until early afternoon on Thursday and were able to view 11 games in three days, the trio of son Chad, son Logan and Logan’s buddy Adam “Chumley” Heitbrink left early Wednesday morning and saw all six games at Williams Arena that day, plus the four quarterfinals at Williams on Thursday before watching the Class A and AA semifinals at Target Center Friday and all four championship games Saturday.

Even Chad, who probably saw at least 80 high school boys’ games this past winter, thought that six games in one day was plenty.

Logan and Chum, who are both freshmen and were aspiring C-squad players for the Southwestern United Wildcats this past season, seemed to enjoy themselves from start to finish.

Logan, in fact, devoured 13 malt cups in his two days at Williams Arena.

On Thursday, the trio watched all four Class AAA quarterfinal games as defending champion Minneapolis DeLaSalle defeated St. Paul Central (81-48), Orono edged Marshall (77-72), Austin beat Alexandria (61-50) and Holy Family Catholic won over Cloquet (63-41).

Then they saw a pair of Class AA quarterfinal games, including Esko’s 57-54 overtime thriller over East Grand Forks and Fairmont’s hard-fought 58-54 victory over South Central Conference rival St. Peter.

Thursday morning, they watched top-ranked Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa roll past Park Christian, 85-50.

Lucas and I arrived in time to join Chad, Logan and Chum on the end seats at Williams for the second Class A quarterfinal contest between Section 3A champion Canby and a fast-paced Fond du Lac Ojibwe squad from Section 7A.

In an extremely exciting closing 22 minutes, Fond du Lac advanced with an 85-82 win in triple overtime. Canby trailed by 15 points with about 10 minutes left in regulation, rallied to gain a two-point lead and then the edge repeatly changed hands until the Ogichidaag prevailed with several outstanding late-game plays by high-leaping Davonte Williamson.

Defending runner-up Maranatha Christian Academy of Brooklyn Park routed Red Lake, 95-67, in a high scoring contest before state-tournament tested Rushford-Peterson defeated Section 2A champion Atwater-Comos-Grove City (ACGC) in a well-played game, 71-63, to conclude the action at Williams Arena.

We then had the chance to watch the not so exciting (ball holding) finish to the Hopkins vs. Shakopee AAAA semifinal on television. The Royals held the ball for one last shot four different times — without success — before winning a four-overtime decision when sophomore Amir Coffey launched a near 60-foot shot cleanly through the hoop at the buzzer.

Later, Lakeville North also advanced when Xavier recruit J.P. Macura hit a long three-pointer at the buzzer, breaking a tie with Cretin-Derham Hall of St. Paul (where Joe Mauer played high school football, basketball and baseball more than a decade ago), which had defeated defending champion Apple Valley (double overtime) in the Section 3AAAA finals.

Interesting coaches each

utilized assistants well

Moving on to Target Center for Friday’s Class A and AA semifinals, the five of us were able to get great front row seats behind the bench on the left side of the scoring table. For me, watching how the coaches operate was interesting.

Two facts were quite clear. Each of the state semifinalists had several assistant coaches and each of the head coaches clearly utilized those assistants, frequently consulting with them — both while the game was in progress and at the beginning of timeouts.

While the styles of several head coaches contrasted, their usage of their assistants was a common theme for all of them, especially highly-successful guys like Tom Vix at Rushford-Peterson and the super-energized Dave Thorson at DeLaSalle.

Vix (587-211) in 29 seasons, has brought 14 teams to the state tournament, including a dozen in the past 18 years. Calm and mild-mannered during his huddles, Vix is constantly consulting with top assistant Chris Drinkall during the flow of the game. But during the timeout, it is Vix who does the talking.

Thorson (450-125 in 20 years as a head coach) has matched Vix with 12 state tournament appearances in the past 18 seasons, including the last three state AAA titles.

From the opening tip to the final buzzer, he is full of energy and most entertaining. As enthusiastic as he is, Thorson asks his lead assistant Todd Anderson lots of questions during their huddles and it’s not uncommon for Thorson, Anderson and another assistant coach to each address the Islanders during an educational and entertaining timeout break.

Getting to sit behind Thorson’s bench during Saturday night’s Class AAA championship game between DeLaSalle and Austin was a repeat experience from last year for us and was again a lot of fun.

It was Chum’s first time watching Thorson in action and he enjoyed it as much as we did. “The guy is really entertaining and knows basketball,” summed up Adam about Thorson’s approach to getting the most out of his talented team.

Williamson’s dunk was a

highlight; Annandale was

impressive in AA victory

A tall and athletic B-B-E team, led by 6-4 senior guard Brian Goodwin, was too much for Fond du Lac Ojibwe to handle in the opening semifinal game of Class A, but the Ogichidaag (means Warriors) certainly brought me to my feet with an amazing fast break dunk by Willamson early in the contest when he took an alley-oop lob pass from Trevontae Brown and slammed the ball through.

I had wondered why Brown was taking such a weird shot instead of making an easy layup, but when the streaking Williamson completed the play, I joined the crowd and applauded the play.

B-B-E’s 76-58 victory was followed by a closely-contested 53-51 R-P win over Maranatha, setting up a Saturday Class A title game between the Jaguars and Trojans.

In the evening, Annandale was very impressive in an aggressively-played 81-76 victory over a good Caledonia squad in the first AA semifinal. Senior forward Matt Miller did everything for the Cardinals before fouling out with about seven minutes left. Soon after, Caledonia scored seven points in about 10 seconds, but the Warriors comeback fell short.

Fairmont opened up a 23-9 lead midway though the first half on Esko in the second AA semifinal, but the Cardinals had difficulty scoring on the Eskomos the rest of the game, falling by a final score of 56-43.

Championship Saturday

Then it was Saturday — our last day at the tournament — with all four championship games.

B-B-E and R-P battled evenly for 33 minutes before Goodwin and the Jaguars took over at the end, winning 52-40 and giving B-B-E its second state championship in three years. The Jaguars topped Southwest Christian (54-45) in the 2012 Class A title game.

Esko proved that its defense — which had stymied Fairmont much of the game the evening before — was for real as the Eskomos slowed down Annandale’s attack and won the AA championship convincingly, 60-41.

After sitting on the left side for all four semifinal games and the two Saturday afternoon championship contests, we had to get in Target Center early for Saturday evening’s finals so we could sit behind DeLaSalle’s bench on the right side of the scoring table.

We were able to accomplish that and we were able to peek into Thorson’s huddles as the Islanders broke from a 14-14 deadlock (Austin senior guard Ajuda Nywesh was on fire from three-point range early) and pulled away for a 60-40 win and a third straight AAA championship with college-bound stars Reid Travis (Stanford), Geno Crandall and Jarvis Johnson leading the way.

Then it was the AAAA championship game and we sat behind Hopkins and their coach Ken Novak, Jr. Hopkins had the lead most of the way, but Novak continually “cried” about not getting all the calls his way.

Lakeville North, behind the amazing 43-point performance of Macura — who also handles the ball very well and tossed several spectacular passes — stayed close, giving them a chance at end. Macura, who had two crowd-pleasing backdoor dunks, drained a long-range three-pointer shortly before Stewart connected on his — helping ignite the Panthers final rally.

In three games, Macura finished with a tournament-high 97 points (23, 31, 43) and certainly left his mark on tournament history as a prolific scorer and all-around outstanding player.

It was indeed another exciting and entertaining state boys’ basketball tournament at both Williams Arena and Target Center.

Schnaible, Turner, Steen

featured in Saturday’s

Annual Review sections

Be sure to check out the Annual Review sections in this Saturday’s Daily Globe. I wrote a trio of stories about long-time area sports enthusiasts.

There’s a feature on veteran Adrian coach Dean Schnaible, who was Hugo Goehle’s assistant at Hills and Hills-Beaver Creek in the 1960s.

Since moving to Worthington nearly five years ago, Round Lake native Denny Turner’s coaching days at Storden and Storden-Jeffers are remembered.

And, special mention is given to Heron Lake’s Don Steen — who has lived in that community his entire life, while working for the railroad and serving the area as a high school football and basketball referee for more than four decades.