It was billed as a mismatch. It had an opportunity to be exactly that, but Albany wasn’t bound to back down from No. 1 DeLaSalle.
The top-ranked Islanders overcame periods of sloppy play and a late three-point barrage by Albany to escape with a 70-60 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals Wednesday at Williams Arena.
DeLaSalle (25-4) is seeking to become the third school to win four consecutive state championships. Minneapolis Henry achieved the feat from 2000-2003, also in Class 3A. Southwest Minnesota Christian did likewise from 1999-2002 in Class 1A.
“Every group is different,” Islanders coach Dave Thorson said. “This one has been under a lot of pressure all year.”
His squad isn’t nearly as polished as his previous three championship squads, and doesn’t have the calming effect of Reid Travis, now a Stanford power forward, in the middle. That was evident from the outset against Albany (26-4).
“We don’t have the inside presence of the past three years,” Thorson said. “We’re more of a perimeter team.”
It took freshman guard Gabe Kalscheur coming in off the bench to bring rhythm to the Islanders’ offense. Kalscheur scored all 10 of his points in the first half, the exact margin of DeLaSalle’s lead, 29-19.
“I try to provide a spark on offense when I come in,” Kalscheur said. “I think my aggressiveness inspired our seniors in the second half.”
The Islanders’ Sacar Anim, a Marquette recruit, was held to six points in the first half. Gophers recruit Jarvis Johnson had just four points at halftime. The senior guards, who are the team’s leading scorers, were a combined 4-for-13 from the floor.
Anim and Johnson took over in the second half. Anim scored the Islanders’ first 10 points after intermission and it appeared a rout was on. DeLaSalle extended its lead to 45-27.
Albany guards Kyle Birr and Nick Raeker then went to work from long range. They helped the Huskies pull within five, 63-58, with 1 minute, 24 seconds left. Birr finished with 21 points and Raeker had 20. They both made five three pointers as Albany went 11-for-24 beyond the arc.
“We were well-prepared for them, and they were still getting shots off,” Thorson said. “We lost track of guys once in a while, and that was a little frustrating.”
Anim finished with a game-high 22 points while Johnson wound up with 14.
“We have high expectations,” Anim said. “There’s a little bit of pressure on us since we’ve won three in a row. We have a big target on our back.”
St. Paul Johnson 59, Hermantown 56: It was chaotic, all 36 minutes.
Players from both St. Paul Johnson (26-3) and Hermantown (24-6) were sprawled out on the court, from one end to another. It nearly proved costly for the No. 2-ranked Governors.
St. Paul Johnson’s athleticism and quickness on the defensive end bailed the Governors out in the final minute of their victory over the Hawks.
“We were really lucky,” Governors senior guard Jalen Mobley said. “You should never win a game when you shoot 29 percent (20-for-70).”
It wasn’t until Thomas Madison’s fadeaway three-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out that the Governors were able to breathe a sigh of relief. Madison had a game-high 20 points.
Hermantown, which shot 34 percent from the floor, didn’t score on its final four possessions. It turned the ball over twice and missed a tough two-point shot. The Hawks turned it over 30 times.
“The only thing we did right was play defense,” Governors coach Vern Simmons said.
Mobley made two free throws with 11.6 seconds left, giving the Governors a three-point lead. He scored 12 of his 16 points in the second half.
“I was confident [shooting free throws],” Mobley said. He also grabbed 11 rebounds and had four steals, one of each coming in the final minute. “I didn’t play like I should’ve today.”
For that matter, neither did his teammates.
“That wasn’t Johnson basketball,” Mobley said. “A game like that shouldn’t have happened.”
Mankato East 65, New Prague 60: These two teams could’ve very easily thought they were playing against themselves. Each mirrored the other — not an overabundance of size and looking to get out in transition at every opportunity.
That was until New Prague tried to slow the pace with a nine-point lead and 10 minutes left.
The move backfired. Mankato East (21-9) closed the game on a 23-9 run, rallying past New Prague.
“Both teams wanted to get up and down the floor,” Mankato East coach Joe Madson said. “We were both scrappy and athletic.”
New Prague (20-9) used four three-pointers, three by James Fuerniss, to take a 51-42 lead eight minutes into the second half. He had a team-high 15 points on five three-pointers.
The Cougars gradually chipped away at New Prague’s lead over the next six minutes. They overtook the Trojans for good on junior forward C.J. Ayers’ three-pointer with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left.
Ayers finished with 12 points.
“I pulled up and missed a few three-pointers in the first half. I said to myself, ‘I’m not going to shoot any more,’ ” Ayers said. “The coaches told me at halftime that good shooters keep shooting.
“I felt pretty good in the second half.”
Ayers missed all three of his three-pointers in the first half. He was 2-for-4 from that range in the second half.
“He was getting good looks in the first half. He just couldn’t hit anything,” Madson said. “He’s a good shooter.”
Waconia 73, Orono 68: There wasn’t a tougher team to figure out in Class 3A during the regular season than Waconia. It appears to have righted the ship.
The Wildcats won their fourth consecutive game, their longest streak of the year, in eliminating Orono (24-6). Waconia (17-13) has endured five- and three-game losing streaks during the season. They opened the year as a top-10 team.
“It’s definitely been a roller-coaster ride,” said Wildcats senior forward Oliver Smith, who had 15 points, rebounds and three blocked shots. “It’s been a lot of ups and downs. We’re on an upswing right now.”
Junior guard Joey Kortuem led the Wildcats’ balanced attack with 20 points. They had four players in double figures.
“Our ultimate goal was to get to the state tournament,” Smith said. “We’re in crunch time.”