Osseo believed it was more than just a defending state champion and showed it Tuesday night.
The Orioles used a 66-56 victory over Class 4A's No. 1 Park Center to confirm their beliefs to the rest of the state. They held the high-scoring Pirates to 24 points fewer than their average and handed the top-ranked team its first loss to a 4A school.
"We're for real," senior Bridge Tusler said. "I'm coming out every game playing like we're the best. This [victory] is an exclamation point that we are No. 1."
Tusler assured his teammates the rankings were wrong entering the Northwest Suburban Conference showdown. Park Center (17-2) didn't belong on top and Osseo (17-2) was better than No. 4, he told himself. After scoring 22 points, dishing out eight assists and physically wearing down the Park Center defense, Tusler hopes the rankings will correct themselves.
The point guard sacrificed his well-being to make sure the Orioles weren't swept by the Pirates in conference play. The physical performance of the Star Tribune's Metro Player of the Year in football showed why he earned the honor. Osseo junior center Ian Theisen said he had only seen Tusler play so physical one other place -- on a football field.
"They definitely let him play," said Theisen, who collected a double-double with 21 points and 14 rebounds. "He was pushing people around. You don't get Mr. Football for being soft. He'll outmuscle any guard in the state."
Not even Park Center standout guard Quinton Hooker could slow the speedy and aggressive Tusler. Leaving Dec. 18's 11-point road loss to the Pirates behind, Tusler outplayed Hooker offensively and defensively, holding him to only 14 points and just five in the second half. Hooker scored 36, including 17 from the free-throw line, in their first meeting.
The lack of production only amplified the absence of Park Center senior guard Devin Buckley and his usual 18 points per game. He remained on the bench after leaving the previous game because of back spasms.
The victory was Osseo coach Tim Theisen's 250th of his career.