Woodbury senior Michael Jones (13) scored 39 points Thursday night in the Royals' win over visiting North St. Paul. Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine
When a team prepares against an elite scorer, the main goal is to slow that player down and make sure they don’t end up taking over the game. In this scenario, that team was North St. Paul, and that player was Woodbury’s Michael Jones.
When it came to slowing down Jones, there was nothing the Polars could do.
“One man beat us,” North St. Paul coach Damian Johnson said. “Mike Jones had an incredible second half. There’s not much we could do to stop him; we didn’t do anything to stop him.”
Jones scored 39 points, 25 of those in the second half, bringing his season average to 32.9 -- third in the state in scoring.
Whatever the Polars tried on defense, Jones was able to make them pay for it. After scoring early in the paint, the defense sagged off him, which opened up the three-point shot. After he drained a few from behind the arc, Jones was able to find lanes to drive to the hoop, finishing at the rim through contact.
Woodbury coach Kent Getzlaff noted how much of a complete offensive player Jones has become.
“He’s turned into a really multidimensional player,” Getzlaff said. “He’s become extremely difficult to guard because he [can score] in a couple different spots.”
Jones made a habit of driving to the basket and getting to the line. He was 10 of 12 from the charity stripe.
As a team, the Royals attempted 42 free throws, doubling the Polars’ 21 attempts.
“The referees called the game how it was, we just got to learn how to adjust to the officiating,” Johnson said of his team. He noted that they had to stop pressing due to foul trouble, which helped free up Jones and the Royals’ offense.
Despite putting up a team-high 20 point-effort for the Polars, Goodnews Kpegeol, couldn’t lead North St. Paul to a win. Kpegeol finished the game with four assists, but fouled out in the final minutes of the game.
David Alston played the biggest role in slowing down Kpegeol and the Polars’ offense. He was the defensive anchor, camping out in the paint and forcing tough shots.
“I thought we played really tough, and made the really hard plays, the charges, the loose balls, down the stretch,” Getzloff said of his entire team, before specifying on Alston. “He sealed the deal for us…he was terrific tonight.”
Alston had four steals, two blocks and drew three key charges down the stretch, including Kpegeol’s final foul.
The Royals took a 70-68 lead with 1:54 left and the crowd, getting louder after every made basket or every defensive stop, helped lift Woodbury to a 7-0 run to seal the victory.
“I’ve been here four years. We’ve had three straight years of incredible crowds, and this has been kind of a theme in tough, big games for us; they’ve kind of carried us through,” Getzlaff said.
Michael Jones came into Thursday night’s game against North St. Paul averaging 31.8 points per game, the fourth-highest average in the state. Against the Polars, who are ranked No. 7 in Class 4A by Minnesota Basketball News, Jones raised his average, dropping 39 points in a 78-72 win for Woodbury (5-2, 2-0).
Jones had 14 at halftime, keeping him on pace to hit his average, but it was the second half where he became a killer. After every bucket he made through a foul, or every three he drained, the crowd reacted with thunderous noise. Jones clapped vigorously and showed his appreciation, motioning the crowd for more, which only amplified the pandemonium.
The loudest the gym got came in the final minutes, when Jones scored a layup after being fouled by Goodnews Kpegeol, which was his fifth foul of the game. Kpegeol exited after scoring 20 points, grabbing seven rebounds and dishing out four assists — but it wasn’t enough for the Polars (5-2, 1-0).
Jones had the type of game you’d expect out of a star player, but he was not the sole reason the No. 14-4A Royals were able to upset the Polars. Fellow senior David Alston also had a big night.
He had a major impact on defense, camping out in the lane and making it difficult for the Polars to score in the paint. Alston had two blocks, four steals and drew three charges. He added 14 points on the offensive end to bookend a complete performance.
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The Woodbury bench and head coach Kent Getzlaff (foreground) celebrate a three-pointer by Michael Jones (13) on Dec 21. Photo by Korey McDermott, SportsEngine