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State boys basketball: Annandale's late push dashes JCC's title hopes

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jarod Wilken converted four free throws in the final 34.7 seconds to lift Annandale to a thrilling 66-61 victory over Jackson County Central Wednesday night in the first-round of the Minnesota state Class AA boys basketball tournam...

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Jackson County Central's Jacob Christopher (left) and Easton Bahr (right) defend Annandale's Jarod Wilken in a state tournament first-round game on Wednesday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Doug Wolter/Daily Globe)

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jarod Wilken converted four free throws in the final 34.7 seconds to lift Annandale to a thrilling 66-61 victory over Jackson County Central Wednesday night in the first-round of the Minnesota state Class AA boys basketball tournament at Target Center in Minneapolis.
JCC, buoyed by a 33-point effort by Jacob Christopher and a harassing defense that seemed to sap the Cardinals’ energy at times, led for much of the second half after trailing for much of the first. But Christopher was whistled for his fifth foul (on a charge through the lane) at 4:18 with his team still leading 54-52.
Unfazed, the remaining Huskies upped the lead to 56-53 on a nice inside move by Nico Feroni at 3:55, then led 58-53 on a steal on the Annandale end by Ryan Christopher, who threw a full-length pass to Easton Bahr to the other end for a fast-break layup.
The Huskies were feeling it now. But the Cardinals proved unwilling to wilt.
Annandale took the lead on a pair of A.J. Hinz free throws at 2:18, then Wilken made one of two for 60-58. JCC freshman Rudy Voss drilled a 3-point shot at 1:11 that pulled his team ahead again, at 61-60, but the Cardinals scored the last six points, with Wilken getting the last four at the line.
Jackson County Central will next play Lake City 6 p.m. at Concordia University in St. Paul today in the consolation bracket. Top-seeded Minnehaha Academy defeated Lake City 77-63 earlier Wednesday and will square off against Annandale in the championship semifinals at 6 p.m. Friday at Target Center.
Wednesday’s game at Target Center was a rematch of the 2016 state Class AA semifinal game won by Jackson County Central 64-46. The two teams took identical 26-4 records into the 2017 contest, with JCC getting there primarily with offense (averaging 78 points per game and giving up 62.1) and Annandale relying mostly on its height and rebounding to outscore opponents 67.4 to 50.4 on average.
In the media prospectus han, Cardinals head coach Skip Dolan pointed out that his team’s size has made it especially difficult for opponents to score this season. As expected on Wednesday, the Huskies attempted to negate their size disadvantage by coming at the Cards from all angles, using speed and aggressiveness to force Annandale to cover the entire floor at all times. JCC head coach Trent Sukalski said prior to the game that the Cardinals would like to “play in a silo” if that were possible, but the Huskies were determined to make them work.
For much of the first half, Annandale’s half-court game was winning. The Cardinals scored the first six points of the game by establishing the inside on both ends of the floor and successfully maneuvering around the Huskies’ speed. JCC subbed in waves and stepped up the pressure only to see Annandale move out to a 12-4 advantage.
Annandale led 25-12 around the six-minute mark on a 3-point shot by Nick Bienick, and two minutes later the margin was 15 points, at 27-12, on a fastbreak layup against the Huskies press. Still relentless on defense and pushing their advantage in quickness, JCC finally began to wear the Cards down late in the half. The Christophers -- Ryan and Jacob -- brought the Section 3 champs back by steals, layups and increased opportunities at the free throw line. A Jacob Christopher 3-point shot with 1:59 remaining made it 27-24 in Annandale’s favor, and seconds later a Gumto steal and layup brought JCC within one at 27-26 before AHS closed the half with a 6-3 run.
Wilken led four Annandale players into double-figures with 18 points. Ryan Christopher complemented Jacob’s 33-point effort with 10 points of his own.

Annandale 33 66
Jackson County Central 29 61

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Jackson County Central's Jacob Christopher (10) drives through the lane past three Annandale defenders for a layup in the Huskies' first-round state tournament game on Wednesday at the Target Center in Minneapolis. (Doug Wolter/Daily Globe)

Related Topics: ANNANDALEBASKETBALL
Doug Wolter joined the Worthington Globe in December of 1983 as a sports reporter. He later became sports editor, and then news editor and managing editor. In 2006 he moved to Mankato with his wife, Sandy, and served as an editor at the Mankato Free Press. In 2013 he and Sandy returned to Worthington to take up the job of sports editor at The Globe, and they have been in Worthington since.

Doug can be reached at dwolter@dglobe.com.
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