Tyus Jones didn’t need to do it on his own.
No. 1-ranked Apple Valley displayed every piece in its arsenal in a 74-57 victory over Park Center to win the Class 4A boys’ basketball state championship Saturday night at Target Center.
While the standout junior guard warmed up to score a game-high 28 points and grab 11 rebounds, the rest of the Eagles built a double-digit lead that held up for most of the game. After Jones left the floor to a roar in the final seconds, he quickly buried his head in coach Zach Goring’s shoulder.
All the pressure and expectations he had carried all season were released at that tear-filled moment.
“Everything just went out,” Jones said about the embrace. “It was an amazing feeling to finally win it. ... It’s kind of a storybook ending.”
The blowout more than made up for the only loss Apple Valley (30-1) had at the start of the season at the hands of Park Center (27-4).
This was the Eagles’ first appearance in the title game. Dennis Austin controlled the inside for Apple Valley with 15 points and 15 rebounds. Dustin Fronk added 14 points.
Jones was 18-for-18 on free throws. Park Center was never really a threat in the finale.
After displaying two of the most athletic performances of the tournament to also reach its first title game, the Pirates didn’t display enough when they needed it most. Apple Valley controlled the game with its defense and discipline.
Harry Sonie’s defense frustrated Pirates’ standout guard Quinton Hooker, who still managed 18 points and nine rebounds, while Jones ran the Eagles’ offense, as he’s done all year.
“[Hooker] makes their team go. If you slow him down, you have the upper hand right away,” Sonie said.
A physical first half meant less offense from two of the state’s higher-scoring teams. The Pirates finished the half shooting 27.3 percent. The Eagles weren’t much better, shooting 35.3 percent.
Jones and Hooker each had a slow start. Hooker didn’t score until seven minutes into the game, Jones didn’t until 12:23 had passed.
The game went on without them, though, as the rest of Apple Valley’s lineup built a double-digit lead.
“They attacked us when we weren’t looking,” Hooker said. “I think everyone could tell, they wanted it more.”
Devin Buckley scored 15 points and Treyton Daniels 10 for Park Center.
The Eagles’ 6-10 freshman, Brock Bertram, grew up throughout the tournament and put it all together in the championship. He scored eight points and had nine rebounds and five blocks, while limiting Park Center’s athletic forwards Joshua Matthews and Daniels to nine rebounds total.
“It was exciting to play my best game in the biggest game I’ve played in,” Bertram said. “I felt like I belong right where I am.”
After spending the first two rounds of the Class 3A tournament showing off its athleticism, DeLaSalle turned cerebral, content to wait out their challengers from Austin. The strategy provided few highlights but, more importantly, resulted in victory as the Islanders downed the Packers 50-33 for their second straight Class 3A championship.
With a perfect regular season, Austin came in with more swagger than expected. For much of the first half, the Packers played as if it was the favorite, going right at DeLaSalle’s vaunted defense.
Forward Tom Aase set the tone. He hit three of four shots from the floor, highlighted by a baseline drive and dunk around Reid Travis. He finished the game with a team-high 14 points. The teams were deadlocked 13-13 midway thought the first half. But part of DeLaSalle’s success is a short memory. They expect to get every team’s best game and beat them anyway.
Knowing that Travis, DeLaSalle’s superstar forward, was being hounded inside, Islanders’ turned to their wonderful guards for a spark. Luck Scott, Geno Crandall and Trey Shepherd scored nine combined points and hounded the Austin ballhandlers as DeLaSalle closed out the first half on a 15-4 run to take a 28-17 halftime lead.
“Our job is to do what the team needs at that time,” said Shepherd. “Reid is a great player. When teams focus too much on him, other players have to step up.”
Not that Travis was ineffective.
With Michigan St. coach Tom Izzo among those in attendance, Travis fought off double-and-triple teams to lead the Islanders (30-1) with 17 points and 12 rebounds.
“Reid is an all-star kind of player,” Thorson said. “He lays everything on the line, offense or defense. We don’t try to hide him.”
Austin coach Kris Fadness was straight to-the-point. “Travis,” he said, “is a beast"
Minnehaha Academy stopped Litchfield on its last possession for a 56-54 victory in the Class 2A boys’ basketball state championship on Saturday afternoon at Target Center.
John Pryor kept his arms high and body close as Zach Whitchurch drove to the basket. Kaharri Carter wouldn’t let his Redhawks teammate stand alone in the final seconds, though. Together the pair stifled Whitchurch’s layup attempt.
“To end the game on a defensive stop is pretty huge.” Pryor said. “It’s an incredible feeling. There’s nothing like it. It’s great to do it for the school and be the first team in school history to win it.”
Minnehaha Academy (24-6) was continually able to adapt to different styles of play and that produced the title.
The Redhawks said they have become like chameleons. The No. 1 seed survived through another slow-paced game after having to speed it up in the semifinals.
Marcellous Hazzard said none of the three state tournament games matched their usual style of play.
“We adapt,” Hazzard said. “We’re chameleons that adapt to anything. [Litchfield] slowed the game up and we still produced.”
Hazzard led the Redhawks with 14 points, Pryor had 12 points and Carter 11. Pryor’s highlight of the game was the final defensive stop, but two of his four three-pointers in the final seven minutes helped the Redhawks maintain an edge.
Litchfield (26-6) took a 46-45 lead at 7 minutes, 33 seconds in the second half, but Pryor took it back moments later. His final three-pointer extend the Redhawks’ lead to 53-49.
Hazzard also responded well to Litchfield’s game plan of forcing Minnehaha Academy to make shots from the perimeter.
The guard was 3-for-3 from behind the arc after just making seven three-pointers in the regular season.
“We got overlooked this year. We weren’t even supposed to win section,” Carter said.
How often did senior guard Dominic Nibbelink think about Southwest Minnesota Christian losing last season’s Class 1A state basketball championship game?
“Every day since it happened,” said Nibbelink, who shot just 25 percent from the field in the loss. “I wanted to come back up here and redeem myself.”
Saturday’s 81-73 victory against Maranatha Christian Academy in the championship game at the Target Center, fueled by Nibbelink’s personal eight-point run and career-high 29 points, squared all accounts.
The third-seeded Eagles (30-1) won their school’s fifth state title. Southwest Minnesota Christian, located in Edgerton, won four consecutive state titles from 1999 to 2002. By contrast, No. 1 seed Maranatha, located in Brooklyn Park, reached its first title game ever.
The Mustangs (31-2) ripped off a 12-1 run to go ahead 33-30 in the first half. Senior forward Isaiah Hanson’s putback with one second left sent Maranatha into halftime leading 37-34.
Maranatha stretched its lead to 51-44 lead less than six minutes into the second half. Southwest Christian got within three points on two lay-ins from junior center Leighton Sampson and another from junior guard Nate Pfeifle.
“They got us back in the game,” Nibbelink said. “On our team we rely on every guy, and they were both huge.”
Nibbelink’s eight-point run — a three-pointer, followed by a three-point play and a jump shot — gave the Eagles a 60-58 lead with under eight minutes to play.
“That’s when I knew we were going to have a good shot at winning the game,” he said.
Southwest Minnesota Christian never trailed again.
DAVID LA VAQUE