In front of a packed house Feb. 6, at Maple Grove High School, Champlin Park, the top-ranked team in Class 4A, took on Maple Grove, the second-ranked team in Class 4A.
Champlin Park led by as much as 11 points in the first half, and ended the half with a 31-26 lead after Maple Grove’s Brad Davison made two free throws with 2.1 seconds left in the half.
Champlin Park ran into a bit of trouble in the second half after star center Theo John was forced to sit due to foul trouble, and The Crimson responded with an 8-0 run to make it a four-point game mid-way through the second half.
“I’m not going to say anything about the officiating, but it was interesting calls,” John said. “I guess the refs saw some contact, but there is nothing I can really do about it.
“They called it and I am moving on.”
Champlin Park was able to regroup with some big shots from McKinley Wright, Marcus Hill and Bennett Otto down the stretch, and the Rebels walked away with a 70-60 victory.
Champlin Park head boys basketball coach Mark Tuchscherer credited his bench for helping keep the rebels in the game.
“When the pressure gets thick and your back is against the wall, you figure out who you are,” Tuchscherer said. “You can see the senior leadership guys step up and make some big plays when we got in foul trouble, and that’s what a great team needs.”
With John on the bench with four fouls, Champlin Park needed its bench players to produce, and Irvin Russell responded with a solid six minutes for the Rebels.
“It changes because one of the best shot blockers in the state goes out with foul trouble,” Tuchscherer said. “A little of what we did changed, we went a bit more zone, but our guys responded well and we tried not to skip a beat.
“We pride ourselves on having a bench that can step up when needed.”
With a pumped-up crows and a great basketball environment, Tuchscherer said the game was a good test for his team.
“They’re high school kids, so they’re excited without a doubt,” Tuchscherer said. “This one has been on the calendar for a while and they have had it circled, and it was a great atmosphere for both teams.
“It was a great game for both teams and we would love to see them again at the state tournament.”
Despite the buzz surrounding the game, Wright said the team did its best to keep from thinking too much about Maple Grove’s ranking entering the game.
“There was no fear at all,” Wright said. “We don’t worry about the pressure of one or two or anything like that.
“We just come in and play to the best of our ability every night.”
Hill knew from the opening tip-off that his team would be able to pull out the victory.
“We felt confident,” Hill said. “We put the Xs and the Os together and we’re a team, we’re a family and we never come out worried.
“When we play together nobody can really stop us. We can all put up double digits at any time, and we all do.”
Despite the victory, Champlin Park feels it has some room to improve.
“I feel like we weren’t playing our best basketball, to be honest with you,” John said. “I see a lot of potential for this team.
“We all love each other and we are playing great. I can’t wait for the end of the season to make our state run and to see where we’re at.”
Wright led the Rebels with 24 points in the victory.
“Coach always tells me to be aggressive and he told me I would have to be aggressive for us to win the game tonight,” Wright said. “I was very aggressive today.”
Hill was the Rebels’ second-leading scorer with 12 points, but his biggest task of the night was trying to limit Davison, who ended the game with 25 points but fouled out with 2:06 left in the game.
“He is a heck of a player,” Hill said. “He knows how to contort his body and put himself in a good position to score.”
Despite playing one of the most difficult schedules in the state, the win over Maple Grove extended Champlin Park’s unbeaten streak to begin the season.
“We have an outstanding conference in the Northwest Suburban, but our non-conference schedule has been outstanding,” Tuchscherer said. “I purposely schedule games against Apple Valley or Woodbury or Hopkins because they are all tests.
“The boys are taking everybody’s best punch and handling it well so far. We’re not done and we’re going to stay focused on our end goal.”
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.