MINNEAPOLIS - North Woods sophomore forward Trevor Morrison was taken down hard in the second half of the Class A boys basketball state tournament semifinals Friday afternoon, drawing an intentional foul on a Cass Lake-Bena player.
The Grizzlies shrugged it off. If you want to play half-court basketball, they’ll play half-court basketball; if you want to run, they’ll run; and if you want to get physical, they’ll get physical.
Junior guard Cade Goggleye scored 23 points as North Woods muscled its way to a 67-47 victory at Target Center.
The second-seeded Grizzlies (31-1), who finished as Class A runner-up in 2017, advance to play fourth-seeded Russell-Tyler-Ruthton (32-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Target Center for the Class A state championship.
“I think we have the guys to do it,” Goggleye said. “We just have to keep rolling, and I think we will. Players like Trev have stepped up. Last year, he was missing bunnies (layups).”
This year, in particular in the second half of the season, Morrison, who only played about 10 minutes per game last season, appears to making all those inside shots, unlike Cass Lake-Bena.
The Panthers finished with a 45-33 rebounding advantage, including an incredible 25-4 advantage on the offensive glass. But those numbers were clearly skewed by North Woods’ offensive efficiency. The Grizzlies shot twice as well, 52 percent to the Panthers’ 26 percent, so they didn’t need a lot of second chances.
The 6-foot-4 Morrison finished with 14 points and seven rebounds and perhaps as many bruises. He laughed when asked how he was feeling.
“A little banged up,” he said. “I feed off the physical play. It kind of ignites a fire under you to be more physical also.”
Athletes in small towns play multiple sports. They have to for those sports to survive. North Woods is a great example of that. The players taking the court Friday were the same ones who helped lead the Grizzlies to the Nine-Man state football tournament, so they’re a tough lot.
The game was chippy, but nothing North Woods couldn’t handle.
Goggleye was asked what style he preferred, freewheeling or physical.
“Either way, it’s OK for me,” Goggleye said. “I know how to handle pressure, and I know how to handle space; so I’m fine either way.”
Goggleye was then asked how much talking was going on the court. He smiled and wisely said, “no comment.”
North Woods will work the ball around in the half-court game but will strike in a hurry when opportunity presents itself. The decisive blow came during a frenetic stretch at the end of the first half, when the Grizzlies went on a 15-2 run over the last 5:26 to take a 33-17 lead into halftime.
“Our defense always leads to our offense,” said North Woods forward Tate Olson, who finished with 11 points, seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and two crowd-pleasing blocks. “When we lock down defense, our offense feeds off that.”
North Woods helped ice it by making 21 of 31 free throws, compared to 8 of 19 for the Panthers.
Noah DeLapaz had 16 points to lead third-seeded Cass Lake-Bena (30-2), which simply missed too many easy baskets to keep up with the high-flying Grizzlies.
Panthers coach John Wind said his team was winded after a double-overtime win over Rushford-Peterson on Thursday.
“That game probably took more out of our legs than we thought,” Wind said. “The missed bunnies, the free throws, right there that tells you that we didn’t have any legs. Our legs were gone.”
Guard Brendan Parson added 10 points as four Grizzlies reached double figures in scoring. Olson and Parson are two of North Woods’ five seniors.
“We’re happy, but we’re not satisfied,” Olson said. “I know I can speak for the rest of the seniors - it’s been a great ride, but we want to end it with a win.”
North Woods will attempt to become the first team from Northeastern Minnesota to win a state boys basketball title since Esko in 2014. Before that, it was Chisholm in 1991.
While you won’t convince anyone who has seen North Woods that the Grizzlies aren’t for real, they’re still playing like they are carrying the banner for underprivileged teams across northern Minnesota. That’s their story, and they’re sticking to it.
“We still feel like an underdog, even with all the talk before the season,” Kleppe said. “These guys didn’t buy into any of that, and I couldn’t be any more proud of them because they did everything they needed to do to get to this spot.”
North Woods 33-34-67
Cass Lake-Bena 17-30-47
North Woods - Cade Goggleye 23, Brendan Parson 10, Tate Olson 11, Chase Kleppe 2, Trevor Morrison 14, Darius Goggleye 4, Isaiah Squires 1, T.J. Chiabotti 2. Totals 22 21-31 67.
3-point goals - Goggleye, Olson.
Cass Lake-Bena - Noah DeLapaz 16, Ethan Brown 4, Arnold Kingbird 8, Jarell Jacobs 10, Raul Washington 5, Jared Brown 4. Totals 17 8-19 47.
3-point goals - DeLapaz 3, Kingbird 2.