Russell-Tyler-Ruthton players were sporting T-shirts Friday that read "Offense wins games, defense wins championships." They are one win from the program's third state crown thanks to the latter.
The No. 3-ranked Knights held Mayer Lutheran without a field goal for the opening 10 minutes, then withstood a furious late rally for a 49-38 victory in the Class 1A semifinals at Target Center.
"We did a great job executing what we wanted to do defensively," Knights coach Ted Kern said. "We're a pressure team. We're not big, but we work hard."
The Knights (32-1) built a 16-1 lead before Crusaders senior center Garrett Tjernagel made a layup at the 7:41 mark. The No. 5-rated Crusaders (28-4) missed their first 12 shots and finished the half 5-for-26.
"It was really frustrating," said Mayer Lutheran junior guard Baden Noennig, who had a team-high 15 points and 11 rebounds. "We knew eventually they would start dropping for us."
It just wouldn't be until the Knights took their largest lead, 38-19, with 10:14 left. Noennig's layup with 2:47 left capped a 17-2 run, pulling the Crusaders within 40-36.
"We're resilient. We've been like that all year long," said Mayer Lutheran coach Patrick Buchanan, whose team wound up 15-for-56 from the field, including 0-for-21 from three-point range. "We're not going to quit."
The Knights, who won back-to-back titles in 2004 and 2005, closed out Mayer Lutheran by going 7-for-10 from the free-throw line in the final 2:05. They made only four of 22 shots from the field in the second half, and were 16-for-55 for the game.
"The second half was a struggle offensively," Kern said. "They gave us a bit of our own medicine."
Junior guard Carter Hansen had 18 points and 16 rebounds for the Knights. He also had four of their 12 steals.
"It's a fun ride," Hansen said. "It feels like a dream."