The Nevis boys basketball team didn't have an answer for 6-foot-7 center Matt Thompson.
Thompson scored 29 points in leading Hancock to a 57-50 victory over the Tigers in a state Class A quarterfinal game at Perham on Wednesday, March 31. Thompson scored 15 points during a pivotal 25-6 run that sparked the Owls to the win.
Nevis, the Section 5A champs, claimed an early 15-8 lead behind a pair of 3-pointers by Eddie Kramer and two layups apiece by Ty Warrington and Joe Houchin. Layups by Houchin and Warrington gave the Tigers a 19-13 advantage.
Jack McNamee picked up his second foul early and Cain Mitchell was temporarily sidelined with a cut by his eye. That’s when Thompson took over.
Hancock ended the half with a 17-3 run to take the lead for good. Two layups by Thompson and a 3-pointer by Kody Berget gave the Owls their first lead of the game at 25-22 before a 3-pointer by Thompson before the buzzer gave Hancock a 30-22 advantage at the half.
“We were able to get off to a very good start, but then McNamee picked up his second foul and Mitchell was sidelined with a bleeding cut near his eye. This opened the door for Thompson to really go to work inside and hurt us in the post,” said Nevis head coach Scott Kramer. “McNamee getting into foul trouble and Mitchell's injury basically happening at the same time, really hurt us defensively against their big guy. It was obvious that their game plan was to limit (Eddie) from getting any kind of looks from outside, and early on he was still able to connect on a couple 3s. Our entire game plan was basically set up to try to limit Thomson inside, and then the foul trouble and injury to Mitchell really turned the tide late in the first half. Our plan going in was to play some zone defense as well, but once we fell behind, they were not going to let us pack it into a zone. I thought we could weather that, but then Thompson hit the buzzer-beating 3 to really deflate us going into halftime.”
After JP Benson opened the second half by making a 3-pointer for Nevis, two layups by Thompson sparked an 8-0 run as the Owls led 38-25. That capped off Hancock’s 25-6 run. Another layup by Thompson kept Hancock in front 43-29 before the Tigers rallied.
Derek Lindow (who was held scoreless in the first half) hit three 3-pointers, Benson hit a 3-pointer, and Mitchell made three free throws as Nevis cut the gap to 52-48. Back-to-back layups by Brandon Kellenberger, including one off a steal, pushed the lead to 56-48. McNamee hit two free throws to make it 56-50 with :48 to play, but the Tigers were held scoreless the rest of the way.
“We were basically forced to play a small lineup, and even though we had some good looks early in the second half, we couldn't connect and Hancock got the lead to double figures. We were able to make a run late, but just couldn’t get all the way back,” said Kramer. “We were forced into going to full-court pressure. That cut the lead, and I thought we might just get there, and then Lindow couldn't convert on a play inside off of a turnover, and that turned into free throws at the other end.”
Lindow finished with 13 points, four rebounds and two steals while Mitchell grabbed four rebounds and McNamee had three rebounds and two assists. Warrington added three assists and two steals while Benson (9), Kramer (8) and Warrington (7) combined for 24 points as the Tigers closed the season with a 20-3 record. Nevis entered the Class A quarterfinals rated No. 3 in the state poll.
Kellenberger added 15 points as Hancock will carry an 18-5 record to the state Class A semifinals. Hancock earned a trip to the state tournament by defeating No. 1-ranked Mahnomen/Waubun 77-71 in the Section 6A title game.
Hancock will play Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s and Hayfield will play Badger-Greenbush-Middle River in the state semifinals at Target Center on April 7. Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s defeated Central Minnesota Christian 86-73, Hayfield defeated Legacy Christian Academy 62-43 and BGMR defeated Deer River 58-52 in the other state quarterfinal games.
Target Center will host the state Class A championship game on April 10.
“It was a really disappointing state tournament experience for us. We should have been playing at Williams Arena and feeling like we really were at the state tournament. It is tough to complain about it when you consider that last season we didn't get to play for the trip to state. But for us, that basically makes two straight years for our kids to get denied the opportunity to fulfill their dreams of playing at the venues in the Twin Cities,” said Kramer. “Even though we didn’t fulfill our goal of reaching the Target Center, we did make another appearance at the state tournament. I couldn't be more proud of our team after a great season.”