New Prague and Mankato East easily could have thought they were playing against themselves in their Class 3A quarterfinal game Wednesday at Williams Arena.
The two teams mirrored each other – not an overabundance of size and looking to get out in transition at every opportunity. Any time one team would go on a run, the other would come right back and do likewise.
That was until New Prague tried to slow down the pace with a nine-point lead and 10 minutes left. But the moveback fired on the Trojans.
Mankato East closed the game on a 23-9 run, rallying for a 65-60 victory. The Cougars (21-9) will meet No. 1-ranked DeLaSalle (25-4) in the semifinals at noon Thursday at Target Center.
“Both teams wanted to get up and down the floor,” Mankato East coach Joe Madson said. “We were both scrappy and athletic.”
New Prague (20-9) used four three-pointers -- three of them by senior forward James Fuerniss -- to take a 51-42 lead eight minutes into the second half. Fuerniss had 15 points on five three-pointers. He led four Trojans in double figures.
The Cougars gradually chipped away at New Prague’s lead over the next six minutes. They overtook them for good on junior forward CJ Ayers’ three-pointer with 4 minutes, 4 seconds left. Ayers finished 12 points.
“I pulled up and missed a few three-pointers in the first half. I said to myself that I wasn’t going to shoot any more of them,” Ayers said. “The coaches told me at halftime that good shooters keep shooting. I felt pretty good in the second half.”
Ayers missed all three of his three-point tries in the first half. He was 2-for-4 from that range in the second half.
“He’s a good shooter,” Madson said. “He was getting good looks in the first half. He just couldn’t hit anything.”
Senior guard Gorg Alhag led Mankato East with a game-high 16 points.