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The Hylanders might have been a little out of sync the last couple of weeks, but the kinks seem to have worked themselves out over the last two games.
It’s about what would be expected from a senior-dominated team that seeks a second straight trip to the state tournament.
On senior night Friday against Brooklyn Center, ranked No. 5 in Class 2A by Minnesota Basketball News, it was indeed the seniors who were big for No. 6-3A Columbia Heights in an 83-75 win.
Point guard Quentin Hardrict had 22 points to lead Columbia Heights, while Wendell Matthews and Deundra Roberson each scored 19, and Christian Kelly had 11. All four are seniors.
There’s a fair bit of chemistry evident among the senior group, who have the Hylanders (17-5, 9-2) in top form heading into the final week of the regular season.
Matthews said the four have been together since they were freshmen and have played on AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams together, including playing for Hoop 43 last summer.
Those bonds have carried over into the high school season as well, and they make sure to get everyone else involved as well once it’s time to play as Hylanders.
“It just builds more chemistry,” Matthews said. “Helps out in the season, we’ve already got a good chemistry and just play even better.”
There was poise as well, as an experienced team should have. Columbia Heights led by 10 at halftime, but twice saw Brooklyn Center creep back within four. Both times, Matthews had an answer, with an old-fashioned three-point play the first time and a pair of free throws the next.
Friday was also about getting back on track.
The team had a couple of starters out for disciplinary reasons early in the month, and absorbed disappointing losses to St. Anthony Village (61-57 on Feb. 5) and Minneapolis Roosevelt (63-56 on Feb. 12). The Hylanders also ran into No. 1-3A DeLaSalle on the 13th in a 94-58 bruising, and though they had everyone back for a game against No. 2-2A Minnehaha Academy on the 16th, they were out of sync in a big 68-56 loss.
The last two games were a return to form, though. Columbia Heights held off a motivated Brooklyn Center (17-8, 6-5) team, and seems comfortable with its new role as the hunted, following a run to the state semifinals last year.
“I guess if there’s a time you want them all back, it’s right now,” Columbia Heights coach Willie Braziel said. “Tonight’s a big win just for us to get momentum.”
Braziel used Mahtomedi, last year’s section favorite, and the team the Hylanders upset to get to state, as motivation for this year’s Columbia Heights squad. The message? Don’t fall into the same trap.
They were good and they became overconfident good,” Braziel said of Mahtomedi a year ago. “I’m hoping that isn’t us, because you have to take every game. The previous year before, they lost to Hill-Murray, an eight seed. That could happen to us here, if we’re lucky enough [to get the top seed].”
Last spring, the Hylanders got to state even with Roberson out with injury. Now they’re trying to manage the pressure of expectations.
“We’re trying to focus on day-by-day, every game,” Matthews said. “Focus on every game, try to get to state. It’s not a guarantee. We’ve gotta play hard. If we play hard, we should get there. Try to win. Last year, Deundra, couldn’t play. So we’re trying to get him that feeling of going to state.”
That feeling is definitely a possibility. Columbia Heights has a week before its regular-season finale at DeLaSalle, then awaits section play. Last year’s section run was a surprise, and now the Hylanders are in the position of hoping things play out to form.
“It’d be nice to go back,” Braziel said. “There’s nothing like it.”
The Hylanders want to finish the regular season on a roll. A win at home on senior night helped that.
Columbia Heights, ranked No. 6 in Class 3A by Minnesota Basketball News, held off Tri-Metro West rival No. 5-2A Brooklyn Center 83-75 on Friday night. Quentin Hardrict had 22 points to lead four players in double figures for the Hylanders.
Columbia Heights (17-5, 9-2) built a 10-point halftime lead, but had to hold off a few Brooklyn Center runs. The Centaurs got back within four twice, but the Hylanders had responses each time.
Wendell Matthews and Deundra Roberson each scored 19 points for Columbia Heights, and Christian Kelly added 11 points and a team-high nine rebounds.
Brooklyn Center (17-8, 6-5) was led by Lu’Cye Patterson’s 24 points, while Adreone Sprinkles added 20. Amahn Decker had eight points and a team-high 11 rebounds.
Before the game, in addition to honoring the seniors as a group, Matthews and Roberson were given commemorative balls for reaching the 1,000-point mark for their careers in the last week.
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