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Osseo's Wheeler Baker tried to dribble around the defense of Armstrong's Rojon Whitley (Marlin Levison/Star Tribune)
For the past two seasons, Armstrong boys basketball coach Greg Miller has been making an effort to play as many players as possible, worrying less about chemistry than experience.
His diligence paid off Friday as the host Falcons rallied from a 14-point first-half deficit to beat Osseo 84-79 in overtime. The victory improved their record to 6-1 and, more importantly, proved that Armstrong is a team to be dealt with.
“We think we’re a good team,” said junior guard Tre Tate. “This shows we’re not a team to be messed with.”
Before the season, it would have been hard to find many outside of Armstrong who felt the Falcons would pose much of a threat. The Falcons lost eight seniors to graduation and fielded a relatively unknown lineup. Miller knew this time would come, so he made certain to give them enough court time to lessen the effect of inexperience.
“It hasn’t always been easy, but I’ve been trying to play 10, 11 players each game for the last two years,” Miller said. “It’s paying off now.”
For the first half, Armstrong looked much more like youngsters awed by the big stage than a team ready for prime time. They fell behind by 14 points, largely due to their inability to contain Osseo’s 6-foot-9 forward Ian Theisen, who scored 13 points before halftime.
But Armstrong has been a second-half team all season and it was again on Friday, taking control with a 18-3 run that was spurred by a technical foul on Osseo, which resulted in a six-point possession for the Falcons.
Junior forward Evan Nolan scored all six, hitting a pair of shots in the lane sandwiched around the two technical-foul free throws. Armstrong had turned a 48-37 deficit into 55-50 lead.
“That was a huge momentum shift,” said Nolan, who finished with a game-high 24 points.
Osseo (7-3) had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but a turnover with four seconds to go sent the game into overtime tied 71-71.
Armstrong took control in overtime with seven straight points and kept Osseo at bay by making 10 of 12 free throws.