Kadeem Thomas (15) and Columbia Heights teammates celebrate a 73-63 win over Mahtomedi Thursday night to claim a trip to the state tournament. Photo by John Molene, SportsEngine
Quentin Hardrict of Columbia Heights reaches to get the ball away from Mahtomedi's Lincoln Rock in the second half Thursday. Photo by John Molene, SportsEngine
Columbia Heights is headed to the state tournament for the first time since 2011 after knocking off top-seeded Mahtomedi 73-63 on Thursday night at Washington High School in St. Paul to claim the Section 4, Class 3A title.
Timely defense and clutch baskets down the stretch sealed the win for the Hylanders (21-8, 4-4), who finished the season ranked No. 9 in Class 3A by the Minnesota State Basketball Coaches Association.
At the game’s onset, it appeared Mahtomedi might coast to victory. The Hylanders were having trouble finding offensive continuity and midway through the first half, they trailed the Zephyrs 12-4. Then, as the first half waned, Columbia Heights came alive.
Sophomore Jarvis Wright knocked down several three-pointers and netted a dozen points in the game’s first period, pulling Columbia Heights to within two points at the half, 33-31.
The second half was nearly a reverse of the first. Columbia Heights roared out of the intermission, grabbing an eight-point lead. But a 9-0 run by Mahtomedi, capped by consecutive three-pointers by Shayne Frost and Lincoln Rock, gave Mahtomedi a 58-57 lead with seven minutes to play.
That’s when the Hylander defense kicked in.
Clutch steals down the stretch by Jarvis Wright, Kadeem Thomas and Airreon Austin took possessions away from Mahtomedi, allowing Columbia Heights to grow its lead. A two-handed dunk by Wendell Matthews, who led the Hylanders with 20 points, in the game’s final minute capped off Columbia Heights’ improbable tournament run.
The Hylanders outscored Mahtomedi 42-30 in the second half.
In addition to his 20 points, Matthews led Columbia Heights with 12 rebounds. Junior guard Quentin Hardrict chipped in 16 points while Thomas and Wright added a dozen points apiece. Austin went for 11 points off the bench.
For Mahtomedi (24-4, 14-2), its sterling season ends prematurely. The No. 3-3A Zephyrs won the Tri-Metro East Conference easily and garnered a top seed in the section tournament.
After being upset in the first round last season by Hill-Murray, Mahtomedi has failed to capitalize on its No. 1 seed status for two straight years.
Few expected Columbia Heights to defeat the Zephyrs.
“We had a chip on our shoulder,” said Thomas. “We tried to compete still and not let anything get over our heads. We had to play hard.”
Northern State University commit Parker Fox paced Mahtomedi with 24 points and 12 rebounds. Briar Cliff-bound guard Shayne Frost added 11 points. Columbia Height’s game plan was to limit Fox to as few touches as possible.
“We had to shut down [Fox],” said Hardrict. “Last game he had a terrific game. This time, we couldn’t let him do all that. We had to go hard.”
Columbia Heights returns to the state tournament after a five-year absence. After being frequently overlooked all season, Hylanders coach Willie Braziel asserted that Thursday’s win should force opponents to take his squad seriously.
“When you are always picked to not be there, it’s a motivator,” he said. “That’s the biggest motivator, when somebody tells you you’re not good enough. It helps us to get the chance to prepare for a game tonight. Everyone said ‘you’re just not good enough.’ Every prognosticator, every blog said Columbia Heights would lose tonight. The only people who thought we would win were the 14 kids in that locker room. We’ve beaten many teams that have been ranked. We’ve got a great group of young men and they take their ranking personally.”
“We beat Mahtomedi earlier in the year and they felt like it was a revenge game. For us, no one said we were supposed to win,” he added.
Braziel says his team will need to harness their defensive potential to win state tournament games. Thursday night, he said, was a prime example of the way his team will have to compete every night.
“The plan was to stop Parker Fox. He is one of the better basketball players I’ve seen this year. He has the desire to win. Tonight, our goal was to not let him get that momentum. We’re undersized but we’re very athletic. We have a really good on-ball defense that helps us be effective. When he touched it, we wouldn’t leave him alone.
In the state tournament, you have to be grounded,” Braziel said. “Let’s just play basketball. We have to stay within ourselves. If we do, we can be successful.”
Columbia Heights defeated Mahtomedi 73-63 on Thursday night at Washington High School in St. Paul to claim the Section 4, Class 3A championship, earning a trip to the state tournament.
Wendell Matthews led the Hylanders, scoring 20 points and pulling down 12 rebounds. Quentin Hardrict contributed 16 points and both Kadeem Thomas and Jarvis Wright chipped in 12 points apiece in the win for Columbia Heights (21-8, 4-4).
Trailing late in the second half, Thomas and reserve Airreon Austin managed to steal two consecutive inbounds passes in the final minute. The resulting six-point swing was enough to permanently seal the game in the Hylanders’ favor.
Columbia Heights, ranked No. 9 in Class 3A by the Minnesota State Basketball Coaches Association, features an inexperienced roster with only four seniors, but advances to the state tournament for the first time since 2011.
For No. 3-3A Mahtomedi, its terrific season comes to an early end. The Zephyrs finished 24-4 (14-2 ).
Northern State University recruit Parker Fox scored 24 points and grabbed 12 rebounds for Mahtomedi. Briar Cliff-bound Shayne Frost added 11 points.
Mahtomedi's Parker Fox dunks in the first half of the Class 3A, Section 4 final. Photo by John Molene, SportsEngine