Columbia Heights opens with 77-74 win over Fergus Falls
By Matthew Davis
Columbia Heights didn’t make a run to the state boys basketball championship game this time around, but the Hylanders pulled off one of the more dramatic games in the tournament.
Led by Wendell Matthews’ 19 points and 16 rebounds, No. 5 seed Columbia Heights squeaked out a 77-74 win over No. 4 seed Fergus Falls in the Class AAA quarterfinals March 22. Fergus Falls had reached last year’s Class AAA title game before falling to DeLaSalle.
Columbia Heights made its return to the state tournament for the first time since 2011 when the Hylanders reached the title game before losing to Orono. This year’s Hylanders stunned No. 1 seed Mahtomedi in the Section 4AAA tournament to reach state without leading scorer Deundra Roberson.
“Most people counted us out,” Hylanders coach Willie Braziel said. “We were not ranked most of the year.”
A hip flexor sidelined Roberson for most of the section tournament but he returned to the court in limited minutes at state with the Hylanders at Williams Arena in Minneapolis.
Roberson, a junior guard, played just 14 minutes and hit a three-pointer on 1-4 shooting from the field against Fergus Falls. It pushed the Hylanders lead to 18-10 in the first half. He then had a steal, which set up Quintin Hardrict for a basket and a 20-10 lead.
Columbia Heights sustained a 10-point lead for the rest of the half with a 27-17 advantage by the break. The Hylanders showed balanced attack with no players in double figures and 14 points in the paint. They also out-rebounded the Otters 17-13.
Hardrict then sparked a 13-2 run to open the second half with six of his 19 points for a 38-22 lead. Foul trouble ultimately stymied his performance as he picked five fouls in the second half and had to exit the game with 2:25 left.
Before Hardrict’s exit, the Otters had begun to whittle the Hylanders lead to single digits with a 10-3 run in the final five minutes of the game.
Columbia Heights senior guard Airreon Austin kept the lead in double figures initially after Hardrict fouled out. Austin scored a layup after missing two free-throws for a 68-56 lead with 2:06 left.
Layups by Spencer Breen and Nathan Rund put the Otters back within striking distance at 69-62. Junior forward Harrison Christenson then cut the Hylanders lead to 70-65 on a three-pointer with 1:18 left.
Missed free throws and a turnover by the Hylanders on the next possession set up another chance for the Otters to close the gap to basket as senior forward Matthew Monke drained a three, 70-68. With 1:05 left in the game, Matthews took over Columbia Heights with five of his 19 points down the stretch.
He pushed the lead back to eight, 76-68, with 15 seconds left after scoring on a layup and free-throws, but Fergus Falls sophomore guard Matthew Johnson wouldn’t let his team go quietly. Johnson hit a three-pointer to close the gap to 76-71 with nine seconds left.
Hylanders senior guard Kadeem Thomas sealed the game when he got to the foul line with seven seconds left and hit one of two free-throws. Thomas finished with four points and four rebounds in the victory.
Fergus Falls ran out of time but hit one last three-pointer by Christensen in the last two seconds as the Hylanders held on 77-74.
“I’ve never seen a team shoot like that,” Austin said.
The rest of the tournament didn’t go the Hylanders way in an 86-60 semifinal loss to eventual champion DeLaSalle March 23. Marshall then beat the Hylanders 83-37 in the third-place game March 25.
DeLaSalle went on to win its sixth consecutive Class 3A state title with a 72-44 victory over Austin. Last year DeLaSalle became the first team to win five championships in a row, and Saturday’s win made them the first to win six straight.
Athletes named to the all-tournament team for Class 3A are as follows: Sam Vascellaro, St. Thomas Academy; Matthew Monke, Fergus Falls; Wendell Matthews, Columbia Heights; Mitchell Sueker, Marshall; Both Gach, Oman Oman, Duoth Gach, Austin; Tyrell Terry, Gabe Kalscheur, Goanar Mar, DeLaSalle.