In a year when the Minnesota State High School League is reaching back in time to celebrate 100 years of boys’ basketball tournaments, Perham and Litchfield put on a display of discipline that would have made Adolph Rupp proud.
Zach Kinney’s driving pull-up jumper in the lane as time ran out gave Litchfield a 33-31 victory over defending champion Perham in the first Class 2A semifinal game Friday at Target Center.
The basket ended a tense defensive struggle in which scoring took a back seat to fundamentals.
Neither Perham nor Litchfield made it to the semifinals because of high-end talent. Both teams relied on superior execution and defensive commitment. Friday’s game, however, took both tenets to the extreme. Mindful of basketball from a different era, the offenses were deliberate and patience was plentiful.
“The defensive intensity in the game was ridiculous,” said Litchfield coach John Carlson, who guided the Dragons to Class 2A state championship in 2000, 2002 and 2003. “It was one of those games were every possession was so important. I told my guys that they wouldn’t play against a better-coached team.”
The game was close from the outset, with neither team gaining a distinct advantage. Perham’s biggest lead was six points, at 14-8 midway through the first half.
Litchfield chipped away at the lead thereafter, finally taking a 21-20 lead late in the first half on a layup by Zach Whitechurch.
Litchfield trailed for much of the second half, finally pulling even 31-31 on a three-pointer by Koll with 7:35 left. That turned out to be the last points of the game until Kinney’s game-winner, which was set up when Carlson, during a timeout, let his team choose how they approached the final seconds.
“Honestly, I had two plays,” Carlson admitted. “I told them ‘You guys decide.’ They decided they liked the ball in Zach’s hands.”
Kinney said that his focus was such that he wasn’t aware that the scoreboard hadn’t budged for more than seven minutes when started his final drive. For that, he was glad.
“If I had known nobody had scored for that long, I might have been more nervous about it,” he said. “That’s the best feeling in the world when your teammates have that kind of confidence in you. It’s an unbelievable thrill.”
KInny was the hero for Litchfield, knocking down a jumper from just outside the paint as time expired to lead his team to the state championship game. The forward finished with an impessive stat line in the low scoring affair, tallying eight points, ten rebounds and four assists.
Koll played the best offensively for Litchfield, scoring eight points on 3-4 shooting, including making two from three-point land. He played solid defense in his 33 minutes of action and will look continue his solid play in the state championship game.
Bruhn was the lone bright spot in what was a tough night offensively. The forward led the Yellow Jackets with eight points and helped them win the rebounding battle pulling in eight rebounds, seven defensively.
-Alec Kinsky, MN Basketball Hub Staff