Receiving a combined 45 points from Alex Hanks and Scott Nystrom St. Cloud Tech outlasted Eden Prairie 62-58 in the second double overtime contest of the state semi-finals. The sheer will of Hanks attacking the Eagle defense was indicative of how several out-state teams have taken to this year's state tournament pulling off upsets that some didn't think they were capable of.
Eden Prairie came into yesterday's game 26-3 and they had been a previously ranked number one team in class AAAA. The Eagles were given the two seed for the tournament. Tech, who was a number one ranked team by the AP at one point, didn't even receive a seed despite a 25-4 record on the season. But Hanks continues to hold that number one finger up after games showing it off after the Buffalo section final win, after the ugly Champlin Park contest, and then again after the Tech Tigers defeated Eden Prairie last night.
With the game on the line Tech put the ball in the hands of Hanks and Alex used a high ball screen to get him directly into the heart of the defense. Most of the time he was fouled (Alex finished 13 of 22 from the foul line) but whatever the case Hanks totaled his 22 points going head on with Brett Ervin and company all the way to the final buzzer. Hanks also grabbed seven rebounds including a couple huge defensive boards in overtime that saw him rip the ball out of the hands of bigger Eagle players.
Nystrom's smooth offensive attack gave Tech 23 points as he made eight of 15 shots from the field including three three-pointers. And the overtime Kewon Johnson steal and finish may have been the signature play of the evening as he picked the pocket of Jack Klukas tying the game at 52 in the final minute of the first overtime.
Tech's resolve and toughness despite being somewhat smaller and not as deep as their opponents has been indicative of what several other outstate squads have done.
Grand Rapids will ride the same wave of momentum into Saturday's championship game when they will try and upset undefeated St. Paul Johnson. 'Rapids" or "GR" as they are known on "The Range" upset DeLaSalle 57-53 in yesterday's semi-finals avenging an earlier season loss to the Islanders back in December.
With a 27-2 record coming in it's kind of hard to call that an upset and there were Thunderhawk fans that also felt slighted by their lack of a seed in this year's tournament. Sure it made sense for them to be under DeLaSalle (the Islanders did beat them earlier in the year), St. Paul Johnson, and Winona as well but they felt disrespected somewhat by Benilde-St. Margaret's getting a seed over them. Whatever the case they have proved their point with wins over both DeLaSalle and B-SM.
The word toughness could definitely be used to describe Rapids especially guards Michael Johnson and Eric Stark as well as forward Kevin Rabbers. Johnson was a defensive hound all day plus his shooting stroke found a rhythm as he scored 14 for the game. Stark was clutch down the stretch taking the ball into his hands and finishing the Islanders off with 20 points and five assists plus he trailed DeLaSalle sharp shooter Bretson McNeal most of the day limiting him to only six points. Then there was Rabbers who had heard a lot about some of the forwards he would be facing but Kevin more than held his own. Rabbers kept a continual hand in the face of Jonah Travis forcing the DeLaSalle standout into three of 13 shooting for the game. Rabbers totaled nine points, 11 rebounds, and three blocks but his contesting defense on Travis may have been his more important role. That and the defensive rebounding that keyed a 37-32 edge on the glass for GR. Travis definitely stepped up late in the game totaling 15 points and 13 rebounds to keep DeLaSalle close but in the end the toughness of another outstate team won out.
Grand Rapids did a strong job of pressuring DeLaSalle full court late in the game and that's what Little Falls did as well. The Flyers eventually fell to the Islanders but they did put fear into DeLaSalle's heart in the second half of the opening round game. The Islanders actually had a 47-26 lead with 11 minutes to go in the second half but a fierce Flyer rally closed the score to 52-50 before DeLaSalle closed things out. The Flyers did force the Islanders into 26 turnovers and gave Grand Rapids a model to follow for the state semi-final game.
In terms of guys making names for themselves you can definitely state Jordan Jackson of Henry Sibley, Alec Brown of Winona, Jordan Pluff of St. Paul Johnson, Stark of Grand Rapids, and Ryan Smith of Eden Prairie to name a few. But many will argue that nobody has raised there stock more than Crosby-Ironton's Mark Hoge.
Before we start drooling over what Hoge did against Minnehaha Academy the entire Ranger team deserves credit for their first round performance. This is a Ranger team that doesn't wow anybody with their athletic ability (outside of Hoge). In fact their size and quickness isn't any different than most junior varsity teams you will see anyplace in state. But what Crosby-Ironton has is a group of kids that played the game with one heartbeat and it's a strong heartbeat.
It starts with coach Dave Galovich who instills the team principles and from there it works its way on down. These kids are very intelligent passers, they are skilled in the arts of moving without the ball, they play hard team defense collectively as a unit, and man do they block out. Take a look tonight at how these Rangers square off when a shot goes up and if you don't get a chance to see ask the Minnehaha Academy kids. Some believed the Redhawks were the most talented class AA team in state but known talent just made Ranger players hit them harder with blockouts and screens.
At one point in the game Galovich asked for the flex offense to be ran so the Rangers would tire out Minnehaha and the kids ran the offensive to perfection hard cutting, setting strong screens, and moving the ball crisply. Those descriptions are precisely how CI plays offense and then you add in Mark Hoge and the result is a very dangerous basketball team. Hoge hit from inside, outside, he attacked off the bounce, and he cut hard off of screens without the ball to eventually catch and score. Mark made 12 of 20 shot attempts and 10 of 14 free throws scoring 35 points in CI's 72-67 victory. Mark is probably the most underrated basketball prospect in the state of Minnesota but everybody will know his name now. Expect division twos to be getting all over him with interest on a more regular basis. That is if football isn't the calling.
Before we close up this oustate love fest Alec Brown's 35 point (16 of 23 shooting), 12 rebound, and four block performance against Orono deserves a quality mention. Despite Jordan Smith putting up 30 points for the Spartans Brown still controlled the game as Winona was victorious 70-57. And if some want to take these statements further they can go with Star Tribune thinking and pretend Jordan and Sibley East are metro schools (they were defeated by Plainview/Elgin-Millville and Braham respectively) although they clearly are not. In fact Braham is 57 miles from Minneapolis while Gaylord (where Sibley East plays) is 66 miles from the same distance only located in the opposite direction. So is Braham metro now? Can we get apple pie in the cities on a more regular basis?
The outstate hasn't been perfect against the metro by any means. Johnson demolished Hutchinson 80-37, Eden Prairie controlled Owatonna, and DeLaSalle did defeat Little Falls. And it's going to take the best games from Grand Rapids to defeat Johnson, for St. Cloud Tech to defeat Hopkins, and for Rushford-Peterson, Ellsworth or Sebeka to beat Kevin Noreen and Minnesota Transitions. Whatever happens from here on out, the outstate teams have come into this year's state tournament and shown their toughness to the metro basketball fans.