Defending Class AA champ Esko in foul mood after loss to St. Croix Lutheran
MINNEAPOLIS -- In the aftermath of his team's season-ending loss to St. Croix Lutheran on Wednesday night at Target Center, it was suggested to Esko coach Mike Devney that he and the Eskomos were looking for a foul on the game's final play, when ...
MINNEAPOLIS - In the aftermath of his team’s season-ending loss to St. Croix Lutheran on Wednesday night at Target Center, it was suggested to Esko coach Mike Devney that he and the Eskomos were looking for a foul on the game’s final play, when Aaron Olson corralled a rebound in the waning seconds and attacked the basket only to be knocked to the court.
“Looking for a foul?” Devney said incredulously after a 37-35 defeat. “You guys saw it.”
Olson chased down Nate Johnson’s missed 3-pointer in the corner and went straight to the hoop. Contact appeared plentiful, befitting a physical slugfest, but nothing was called. Olson crumpled to the ground and the blue-clad Eskomos waited for a whistle, pleaded for one even, but none came. Devney said the simple retort he received from one of the game’s three officials was, “There was no foul.”
Just like that, Esko’s season was over - as was its state title defense - in the quarterfinals of the Class AA Minnesota high school boys basketball tournament.
“I saw (Johnson) shoot it and it ended up short,” Olson explained. “I grabbed the board and went back up. Didn’t get a call.”
The top-seeded Crusaders (29-2) advance to Friday’s semifinal round vs. Melrose Area. They had to survive a rugged start Wednesday to get there.
To say the first half of this one was played at a snail’s pace would be a grave disservice to snails. There was no pace, not in a game led 10-7 at halftime by St. Croix Lutheran. It was 8-7 a minute before the break and the teams combined to shoot a disastrous 7-for-41 (17.1 percent), including 1-for-14 beyond the arc. Neither team had an assist as they went to the locker rooms.
“I don’t know what the (heck) that was,” Devney said.
His coaching counterpart didn’t know how to describe the first 18 plodding minutes either.
“I looked up at the scoreboard at halftime and saw we had 10 points and a three-point lead,” St. Croix Lutheran’s Jay Wendland said. “I just scratched my head.”
The Eskomos (23-8) trailed by as many as 11 points in the second half. Given the offensive duds on display, it seemed like the Mount Everest of deficits, but a 3-pointer from Johnson made it 28-24 and two more from Elijah Mattinen and Olson forged a 32-32 deadlock. Esko, though, never could get over the hump.
Johnson scored a team-high 13 points. For the Crusaders, Trenton Krueger had 18 points and Ade Lamu added 11. Krueger’s two-handed slam early in the second half triggered a midgame surge and Lamu, a slippery guard and irrepressible leaper, always seemed to have an answer to quell any Eskomo momentum.
With his team down 36-34 and just more than a minute remaining, Mattinen barely missed a 3 from the wing that would have given Esko its first lead of the second half. It looked good all the way before rimming out.
While Devney bemoaned all the “clutching and grabbing,” he was just as quick to praise his players, who were tasked with the monumental challenge of replacing the engine of last year’s team - Kory Deadrick, Marc Peterson and Casey Staniger - which produced the first state championship in program history.
“I’m very proud of these kids for battling back, especially after all the firepower we lost last year,” the coach said. “A lot of people doubted us.”
The cupboard won’t be bare next year as Esko seeks its fourth consecutive tournament appearance. Starting with veteran point guard Jaxson Turner and 7-foot center Adam Trapp, Devney will have a solid nucleus around which to build.
-- Due to technical difficulties, a box score was not available.
St. Croix Lutheran 10-27-37