Litchfield players celebrated as teammate Zach Kinney made his last second shot to win the game and earn a spot in the Class 2A boys' basketball final.
In a year when the Minnesota State High School League is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the boys' basketball tournament, Perham and Litchfield put on a display of basketball discipline that would have made Adolph Rupp proud.
Zach Kinny'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, ending a defensive struggle in which scoring took a back seat to fundamentals.
Offenses were deliberate and patience was at a premium. The only things missing were set shots and saggy socks.
"The defensive intensity in the game was ridiculous," said Litchfield coach John Carlson, who guided the Dragons to Class 2A state championships 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."
Perham's biggest lead of the game was six points, 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 Dylan Koll with 7:35 left. Those turned out to be the last points of the game until Kinny's game-winner, which was set up when Carlson, during a timeout, let his team choose how to approach 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."
Kinny said he wasn't aware that the scoreboard hadn't budged for more than seven minutes when he 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."
Plainview-Elgin-Millville 84, Braham 67
Plainview-Elgin-Millville played a nearly flawless first half in Friday's Class 2A semifinal against No. 3-seeded Braham. The big question was whether the Bulldogs had given themselves enough room to withstand the eventual Braham rally.
They did, staring down a barrage of second-half points from Braham's Tyler Vaughan to oust the Bombers 84-67. Plainview-Elgin-Millville will make its first championship game appearance when it takes on Litchfield for the Class 2A title at 2 p.m. Saturday
"That first half was about as good as we can play," Plainview-Elgin-Millville coach Kirk Thompson said. "In the second half, we knew Vaughan was going to come out firing, but we did some good things ourselves."
The Bulldogs (26-6) started fast, shocking the Bombers (30-2) by hitting their first four field goal attempts, all from beyond the three-point line, and using that momentum to take a 40-24 halftime lead.
In the second half, Vaughan, one of the state's premier scorers, scored 23 of his 35 points,
"It seems strange to say this, but I thought we made it tough on him," Thompson said. "He had to work for his 35."
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, relied on their long, athletic inside players -- Sam Ruth, Beau Nelson and Chase Montgomery, all of whom are 6-3 or taller -- to counter with easy baskets inside. That trio scored 35 of the Bulldogs' 44 points after halftime.
Guard Cory Speer led Plainview-Elgin-Millville with 22 points, 17 in the first half.