My favorite moment from the opening day of the boys state basketball tournament took place before the games ever started. My second favorite moment happened after the first game at Target Center had ended. Both involved the Brainerd Warriors.
The Warriors knew they had a tough assignment in the Class 4A quarterfinals. Brainerd was one of three unseeded teams in the field and its opponent was top-seeded Apple Valley and all-everything junior guard Tyus Jones.
Kentucky coach John Calipari was sitting in a front-row seat at Target Center for the 10 a.m. game. That’s nothing new to the Apple Valley team and fans; big-name coaches have been popping in at Eagles games regularly in pursuit of Jones.
But this whole enterprise was something new for the Warriors , who had not been to state since 1991. But they do have their routines, and one of the finest was on display during the national anthem. Most teams simply stand at their bench and line up facing the flag. Warriors coach Scott Stanfield and his crew, however, went to the free throw area in front of their bench, with the coaches standing on the free throw line and the players lined up in a semi-circle on the three-point line. Everybody had their right hand over their heart. It said something about respect, which we can sometimes lose sight of.
The Warriors hung tough with Apple Valley, leading 36-34 at halftime as Jack Sauer hit an NBA-plus three-point shot at the horn. Apple Valley played a better second half and finished with an 81-67 victory behind 19 points, seven assists and six steals by Jones.
After the game ended and the teams shook hands, there was another special moment. The giant contingent from Brainerd -- one of the largest crowds for a quarterfinal game that I remember – stood as one and applauded their boys. And the Warriors stopped for a second or two on the court and waved to their fans before heading to the locker room.
Brainerd has much to be proud of.
Apple Valley’s last trip to state was in 2009, but none of the current players were part of that squad. So it probably wasn’t surprising that the Eagles didn’t get off to the best start against Brainerd.
“We had a lot of jitters early, I think,” said fourth-year coach Zach Goring. “And Brainerd is a good team. They don’t have any superstars but they really play well together.”
Jones, who said the Eagles had to regroup at halftime, scored only four points in the first half but was a highlight reel at times in the second half.
“He clearly was the difference in that game,” Stanfield said. “He was tough on us, and I thought our kids battled hard against him. He sees the court like other high schools kids don’t.”
Jones said, “We got to give a lot of props to Brainerd. That’s an extremely good team and they played well.”
--Apple Valley will meet Eden Prairie in Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center. The Eagles defeated Woodbury behind 20 points by Andre Wallace .
PARK CENTER WINS IN OVERTIME
The best game of the 4A quarterfinals was Park Center’s 74-72 victory over Lakeville North in overtime. North trailed by 19 points in the first half but came out with a flurry after halftime.
Park Center’s Quinton Hooker and Lakeville North’s J.P. Macura traded baskets much of the game; Hooker finished with 29 points and Macura had 26. But the most important shot for Hooker was one he missed.
The Pirates held the ball for the last shot in overtime. Hooker fired from the free throw circle, the ball rattled out and teammate Isaac Mathews tipped it in for only his second field goal of the game.
“When the ball goes up, I try my best to read where it’s going to come off the rim and get in position,” said the 6-foot-4 junior reserve.
--Park Center’s opponent in Thursday’s semifinals will be Edina, which rode the offensive skills of guard Graham Woodward to beat Andover 99-61. Woodward scored 40 points, 32 in the first half. The tournament record for single-game scoring is 51 by AlBrook’s Cory Mountain vs. Maranatha Christian in 2006.
CLASS 3A QUARTERFINALS
--DeLaSalle 70, Sartell-St. Stephen 55/ Reid Travis had 23 points and 16 rebounds for the Islanders. Parker Hagen led the Sabres with 19 points
--St. Paul Johnson 64, Delano 54/ Quashingm Smith-Pugh had 20 points and 15 rebounds for the Governors. Delano’s Dalton Pulis had 20 points.
--Austin 59, Blake 56/ Tom Aase scored 20 points and led a second-half comeback for the Packers. Blake’s JR Bascom had 17 points.
--Marshall 69, Grand Rapids 52/ Riley Sharbono led Marshall with 18 points and Alex Illikainen had 31 for Grand Rapids.
CLASS 2A QUARTERFINALS
--Minnehaha Academy 53, Perham 41/ Jesse Johnson scord 13 points for the Redhawks and Tyler Glines had 15 for Perham.
--Litchfield 64, Redwood Valley 55 (2 overtimes)/ Litchfield scored the final 10 points of the second overtime and Zach Kinny led the Dragons with 18 points. Alec Koster led the Cardinals with a game-high 27 points.
--Annandale 56, Byron 42/ Matt Miller led Annandale with 16 points and Jack Nelson had 17 for Byron.
--Esko 60, Hayfield 54/ Kory Deadrick’s 30 points paced the Eskomos and Cole Kruger had 28 for Hayfield.
Class 3A semifinals at Target Center
Noon/ DeLaSalle vs. St. Paul Johnson
2 p.m./ Austin vs. Marshall
Class 4A semifinals at Target Center
6 p.m./ Apple Valley vs. Eden Prairie
8 p.m./ Park Center vs. Edina
Class 1A quarterfinals at Williams Arena
Maranatha Christian vs. Mountain Lake, 11 a.m.
Rushford-Peterson vs. Lakeview Christian, 1 p.m.
Upsala vs. Battle Lake, 3 p.m.
Southwest Minnesota Christian vs. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley, 5 p.m.
--Coaches should leave nothing to chance. That’s why Eden Prairie assistant coach Nick Ravn was looking at his cell phone as well as the scoreboard clock as he left the arena floor at halftime. He was synchronizing a stopwatch ap on his phone with the scoreboard, so the Eagles would know how much time they had before returning to the court.
--Target Center is a Pepsi-only building ... but some of my best friends are smugglers. That’s how two 20-ounce Diet Cokes arrived at my courtside location Thursday morning.
--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 3 for the tournament, 55 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,689
(*During the 2012-13 school year)