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A 'Statement Game' At State By Minneapolis North

 


This is what you call a concise, accurate scouting report: “They’re a big, good defensive team and they move the ball really well, attack the basket, good rebounders and they get out in transition. They’re a really good team.”

Those are the words of Red Lake boys basketball coach Roger White talking about Minneapolis North. Those two teams won quarterfinal Class 1A state tournament games Thursday at Williams Arena, albeit in varying manners, and will meet in Friday’s semifinals at Target Center.

North, which is the top seed, cruised past St. Clair 80-27, with running time used for the final nine minutes (by rule when the margin is 35 points or more). The Polars are everything White described, too.

They had 16 offensive rebounds (and 23 on the defensive end), and North’s belly button-to-belly button defense helped them pile up 21 steals (and contributed to St. Clair’s 32 turnovers). Five Polars scored in double figures, led by future University of Minnesota football player Tyler Johnson and Jamil Jackson with 18 each.

“I think this is kind of a statement game, to make teams a little bit worried,” Johnson said. “Whether they’re worried or not, we’re just going to come out day by day and just come out pretty strong.”

St. Clair coach Charlie Freitag said his team practiced against eight defensive players in preparing for the Polars. The Cyclones shot only 24 percent in the loss.

“It’s hard to replicate,” he said. “Even if you have speed, you’ll never duplicate their length and athleticism. Preparation only goes so far. You still have to knock down shots.”

Part of North’s preparation included a strong schedule. Yes, their enrollment puts them in Class 1A, but their regular-season schedule was loaded with larger schools.

North is 27-5 with losses to 4A state tournament contender Hopkins, 4A Champlin Park, 4A Wayzata, 4A Minneapolis Washburn and a team from Georgia. Teams the Polars have defeated include St. Croix Lutheran (the top-seeded team in 2A at state), Fridley (a 3A state tourney team) and Central Minnesota Christian (the No. 2 seed in 1A).

North nearly defeated Hopkins on Jan. 19, losing 98-96 in the Polars’ gym.

“Hopkins, that was a pretty good team,” Johnson said. “We played a pretty good game that day. Even though the outcome was a loss, I feel like that was one of our best games of the season. We learned a lot from that game. We learned how to play with a big crowd on a big stage. That pushed us for the rest of the season.”

Red Lake advanced with a 66-52 victory over Browerville/Eagle Valley. Four players scored in double figures for the Warriors, led by Kendall Whitefeather’s 18.

There surely will be a big crowd at Target Center for the semifinals. Red Lake fans nearly filled half the lower bowl at Williams Arena on Thursday to watch the Warriors (27-4), while North brought an equally enthusiastic contingent.

“It should be an up-and-down game,” Red Lake’s White said. “I don’t think our guys know how to slow down. It’s going to be a good game and hopefully we can play defense and get some rebounds and hit some shots.”

--One of the great scenes Thursday at Williams Arena came after St. Clair’s loss to Red Lake. The Cyclones were playing at state for the first time in school history and they finished with a record of 22-8.

After the teams shook hands, Freitag and his players gathered for a quick huddle. As they broke formation, the players and coaches all turned to face their fans and began applauding. The crowd returned the applause and cheered loudly for their boys.

“Our fans, they were amazing,” Freitag said. “They almost filled the whole side of Williams Arena. It was great to see and we had to show appreciation back. Hopefully they know our community knows how much we value them and their support throughout this. I hope they enjoyed what we’ve done throughout the year and even enjoyed the experience here today.

“This (loss) doesn’t define our team or our season at all,” he said. “Our season’s already been defined. We wanted to go out and enjoy this experience. I hope they did. We told them to keep their heads up and understand what they’ve accomplished. In no way does this define what our seniors have done. Basically it’s just a bad draw. I can’t be more proud of them.”

THURSDAY’S STATE QUARTERFINALS

CLASS 1A

--Minneapolis North 80, St. Clair 27

--Red Lake 66, Browerville/Eagle Valley 52

--Central Minnesota Christian 50, Mountain Iron-Buhl 32

--Goodhue 54, Lake Park-Audubon 29

 

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