After spending two rounds of the Class 3A tournament showing off its athleticism, DeLaSalle turned cerebral, content to wait out Austin. The strategy provided few highlights but, more importantly, resulted in victory as the Islanders downed the Packers 50-33 for their second consecutive Class 3A championship.
Austin had built its 30-0 record on strong fundamentals, outside shooting and a difficult-to-solve zone defense. DeLaSalle utilized two strategies against the Packers, attacking seams in the zone in the first half to build a 28-17 lead, then settling in to wait out the defense by spreading the floor in the second half.
“That is so hard for these guys to do,” DeLaSalle coach Dave Thorson said. “But that just speaks volumes about this team and their ability to understand what we need to do to win. I thought we’d pull them out of their zone, but when they didn’t, we were fine with running some clock.”
With a perfect regular season, Austin came in with more swagger than expected. For much of the first half, the Packers played as if they were the favorites, 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 with a team-high 14 points. The teams were deadlocked 13-13 midway through the first half.
But part of DeLaSalle’s success is a short memory. The Islanders expect to get every team’s best game and still win. Knowing that Travis, DeLaSalle’s superstar forward, was being hounded inside, the Islanders’ turned to their wonderful guards for a spark.
Luck Scott, Geno Crandall and Trey Shepherd scored nine combined points and hounded the Austin ball handlers 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,” Shepherd said. “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 State coach Tom Izzo watching, 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 is a beast.”
Fadness said he never considered going to a man-to-man defense. The Packers were going to stick with what had made them successful. DeLaSalle’s execution made the difference this time.
“Zone is what we do,” he said. “Usually, we trap and get turnovers out of the zone. But DeLaSalle is a different kind of team. We’d get a turnover and look up and they’d already be downcourt, ready to defend.”