Grab-and-go, a term usually reserved for a grocery store’s deli section, aptly described DeLaSalle’s performance Thursday against Mankato East.
However the top-ranked Islanders’ defense got the ball — whether intercepting passes or stripping Cougars’ dribblers — they rushed it down the court for several lay-ups and slam dunks.
Demoralizing man-to-man defense fueled transition baskets and DeLaSalle’s 74-40 romp at Target Center. The three-time defending state champions (26-4) advance to play at 5 p.m. Saturday in their fourth consecutive Class 3A championship game.
“To be honest, I think this is one of the best defensive games we had all year,” said DeLaSalle senior guard Sacar Anim, who led all scorers with 27 points.
Scanning the score sheet after the game, Islanders coach Dave Thorson muttered, “Wow. Three-for-19. Holy cow.”
The tough shooting night belonged to Mankato East (21-10) senior guard Gorg Alhag, the focus of DeLaSalle’s defensive efforts. He came into the game leading the team in scoring with an average of 19.8 points per game but finished with eight points.
“That was our game plan, to stop him,” said Anim, who signed with Marquette. “He’s a great player so we put different guys on him to wear him down.”
The plan worked. Statistics chronicled No. 5 seed Mankato East’s struggles. Six of the Cougars’ 15 turnovers were Islanders’ steals. And they shot 14-for-55 (25.5 percent) from the field.
DeLaSalle ran its tournament winning streak to 11 games dating back to 2012.
St. Paul Johnson 69, Waconia 62
Call St. Paul Johnson’s talented and tenacious reserves the lieutenant governors.
The second unit played a primary role in Johnson’s 69-62 Class 3A semifinal victory against Waconia on Thursday. Juniors Savion Benton and Saivon Parker and senior Sedrick Clark each logged at least 18 minutes of action. They combined to give No. 2-ranked Johnson (27-3) a 19-5 advantage in points off the bench.
“They mean a lot to us,” said senior guard Jalen Mobley, who led all scorers with 25 points. “If the starters are playing hard and they are playing hard, it’s going to be a good game for us.”
Strong play off the bench made foul trouble for starting center Justus Murphy was no trouble. All three players were at or beyond their season averages for scoring, mitigating the pain of an off-day for Andre Smith.
After struggling in the quarterfinals against Hermantown, Johnson’s second unit heard from coach Vern Simmons during an extended postgame locker room talk.
“We needed those guys to step up and they were a little shell shocked,” Simmons said. “I saw a lot of big eyes. But I told them, ‘It’s just basketball.’”
Inserted into the Waconia game at critical points, Benton, Clark and Parker kept the Governors from squandering a 13-point halftime advantage. The unseeded Wildcats (17-14) cut their second-half deficit to no less than five points.
“Anytime that we made a run they seemed to have an answer,” Waconia coach Pat Hayes said.