State tourney experience shows in 64-54 victory
by Dave Pedersen
Sun PRESS Newspapers
St. Paul Johnson came at Delano with an energetic pressure defense the entire game and won the battle for the rebounds on way to a 64-54 victory in the first round of the Class 3A state basketball tournament last week.
“Johnson is a very good team that has been at state five or six years in a row and knew what to expect,” said Delano coach Terry Techam about the worthy opponent making its 11th trip to state compared to Delano’s second trip in 20 years.
“They hurt us on the boards, especially in the first half when we were out-rebounded 24 to 13,” said Techam. “We did a much better job against the press in the second half but could not cut the gap to less than seven points.”
Johnson finished with a 41 to 27 edge in rebounds and had 20 fast break points compared to 0 for the Tigers. Delano trailed 33-24 at the half before being outscored by just one point in the second half.
The Tigers cut the lead to four points at 39-35 with 13:11 to play, but Johnson charged back up by 11 with 10:33 left. Delano made another run to trail by seven with 2:15 to play, but fell back by 13 when it did not score again until just 40 second to play when on a 3-pointer by Pulis.
Delano played all five starters for at least 34 minutes and used reserves for a total of four minutes until the last minute. Meanwhile, Johnson kept rotating in rested players, having eight with at least 14 minutes of action.
Normally, senior Zach Muchenhirn plays much more as the first player off the bench for Delano. Plus, the Tigers usually built big second half leads, providing more playing time by reserves.
“Johnson is a good defensive team that pressed us more than we faced all year,” said Techam. “With all the pressure they were putting on we needed our three guards to do most of the ball handling and we didn’t have the size off the bench. We did a pretty good job with 15 turnovers, compared to our season average of 12.”
Techam said the Tigers tried to play some zone defense in the first half to slow Johnson down a little bit.
“The trouble with a zone defense is there are no assigned players to cover,” notes the coach. “They try to speed you up and we decided we were not going to play tentative and wanted to attack the basket.”
Some of the shots ended up being rushed and rolled off. Meanwhile, Johnson was only 2 of 9 from 3-point range in the game. Both came at the end of the first half, including one at the buzzer that provided some momentum.
“Any time you lose there are things you can look back on, but I thought we competed well and played hard,” adds Techam. “We were still in the game with a few minutes to go.”
Techam praised the play of senior Dalton Pulis, who led the offense with 20 points, pulled down eight rebounds and had three steals. He made three of the team’s five 3-point baskets. For the game, Delano was 5 for 17 in 3-point shots for 29 percent.
Senior Zach Checkal scored 12 points to go with a team high 10 rebounds. Junior Damon Longstreet added nine points and three blocks. Senior Adam Schleper scored six points and had three steals. Junior Toby Hanson had five points and four assists.
Techam said Hanson had a hard fall on his back in the first half, which may have affected him as the game went on, though he did not complain.
“It was a great experience playing in Williams Arena,” said Techam. “It was a positive for our program that has only gone to state twice and not since 20 years ago.”
Delano finished the season at 26-4. The team returns two starters in Longstreet and Hanson, who already cleared the 1,000-point career milestone. Also back will be varsity reserves Seth Norling, Sean Campbell, Seth MacLeod and Matt Kreklow. The other senior is Arick Neisen. The Tiger junior varsity had a great season, going 20-6.
One player difficult to replace is Checkal, a three-year starter in his four varsity seasons. This year he led the team in scoring, rebounds, assists and steals. He brought the ball up court much of the time and often covered the opponent’s top player on defense.
Contact Dave Pedersen at [email protected]