Trailing first-time entrant Stewartville by eight points early in the first half, the DeLaSalle Islanders looked to their past, filled as it is with state champions and Mr. Basketball winners, to steady themselves.
They immediately embarked on a run that turned the eight-point deficit into a nine-point lead and maintained their advantage en route to a 71-66 victory in the Class 3A quarterfinals of the boys basketball state tournament Tuesday at Williams Arena.
Senior guard Riley Blaylark, who had six points, five assists and nearly as many floor burns, said there's a pride in playing for DeLaSalle that permeates the program.
"It's like a power," Blaylark said. "It lifts us up, the legacy that had been created before us. We feel it's our job to carry the torch."
DeLaSalle guard Nasir Whitlock scored just three points in the first half but Whitlock added 15 after halftime and steadied the Islanders against Stewartville's constantly changing defenses. Besides his 18 points, he added 10 assists. Both teams are now 25-5.
"I came out, played my game and took whatever the defense gave me," said Whitlock, this season's Metro Player of the Year. "My teammates were open, I found them and they made shots."
The primary beneficiary was 6-6 forward P.J. Pounds, who had a game-high 20 points, highlighted by numerous dunks.
DeLaSalle coach Todd Anderson, who was a 24-year assistant coach before taking over the program this year, said playing for DeLaSalle is not about dealing with pressure, it's having a platform of support.
"It gives the players strength," he said. "It elevates them."