Anoka and Andover contests are often close, no matter the sport or the situation.
No. 2 seed Andover (13-12), the defending Section 7AAAA champions, held on for a 64-61 win against No. 6 seed Anoka, March 5.
Andover led 36-25 at the half thanks in part to Anoka (4-22) being called for two technical fouls.
“Being an arch rival, nothing is going to be easy,” Huskies coach Matt Aune said, despite the seeds and beating them twice during the regular season. “We feel very fortunate to be moving on or survive and advance, as they said, right? We did a good time in the first half but not doubt about it they rattled us in the second half.”
“These guys know each other, playing against each other since house ball in third grade,” Anoka coach Ryan Tohm said. “You can’t let the emotional side get into you and I was trying my best to get them focused but they were too excited tonight.”
The physical play on both sides continued throughout the game and Aune knew it would be that way based on previous meetings.
“Not to this degree,” Aune said about how those heated moments compared to the last game. “We talked to them about playing our game and not getting rattled.”
Huskies senior captain Connor Wilkie made four free throws after the first technical with 7:18 left in the first half to give him six points in the first half. He became the program’s all-time leading scorer while at the line, needing just four points to add another record to his list of accomplishments.
When asked about the record, Wilkie said he forgot about the record once he stepped onto the floor to start the game. He was reminded at the half. “It’s pretty cool,” Wilkie said looking back. He talked about the records with his father, Huskies football coach Rich Wilkie and said he felt accomplished, but “at the same time, I’d rather win a section championship and go back to state again over the records.”
He passed for over 5,500 yards as the Huskies’ quarterback and passed the 1,000 career points mark on the basketball court in late January.
Wilkie went 1-for-4 after the second technical to give boost the Andover lead to seven points with 1:09 left in the first half and finished the game with a game-high 21 points.
Going into the first half of both previous games, Anoka tried to take away the inside game from Wilkie.
“But that wore off in the second half and let me do what I wanted but this being a section game they weren’t going to let me do that,” Wilkie said.
Despite the scoring, Anoka tried its best to contain Wilkie. Both technicals came after plays in which he had the ball near the basket.
Wilkie said the physical style came through in both regular season meetings as well. He had 19 points in a 74-54 win (Dec. 17) and had a double-double, 23 points and 12 rebounds in a 69-57 win, Feb. 7.
Andover built a 6-11 record through January but since then is 8-2 with a real chance of returning to state.
Early in the section semifinal, Derek McLaughlin and Jake McNallan kept Andover close with consecutive three-pointers after strong scoring plays from Anoka’s Torry Ledin, Jake Grow and Stephen Barthold.
Anoka senior Nick Greenberg intercepted a pass intended for Evan Olson for an easy bucket to trim the Huskies lead to two with six minutes left in the opening half.
Andover junior Tyler Goltz sank a 3-pointer to push the lead back to 21-16 and Derek McLaughlin made a 3-pointer to make it a 30-20 lead with 2:20 left.
Out of the half, Anoka made a quick 3-pointer but Andover once again responded to the basket with a pair of baskets from beyond the arc to induce an Anoka time out, down 41-29 with 15:37 remaining.
Just over one minute later Greenberg poked the ball free from Olson for another defensive play as the Anoka senior made a 3-pointer and was fouled on the play. He made the basket to keep the game close, down 41-32.
Greenberg made another 3-pointer to trim the lead to 50-43 with 6:50 left to signal a momentum swing toward Anoka.
Add in 12 points from Anoka guard Travis Bengston and the underdogs found themselves in a good position for an upset.
“Over the last stretch we’ve seen their three-point shooting carry them,” Aune said. “They liked to drive and kick off Bengston and made an adjustment that really helped.”
Wilkie fouled Barthold with 3:36 left and the Anoka captain made both free throws to cut it to 59-54. Barthold drained a 3-pointer to make it 63-60 with 2:12 left, stokingthe fire of a close game with the season on the line.
Anoka’s Ledin caught an outlet pass after an Andover miss and was fouled while making the lay-in. The 3-point play cut the Huskies lead to 63-62 with 1:55 left.
While Andover senior Kyle Kettler was heavily defended by Barthold, Greenberg snuck in and stole the ball from Kettler with 40 seconds. After an Anoka time out, Barthold drove past Wilkie in the paint but his lay-up felloff the rim to Kettler, who was immediately fouled with 22.5 seconds left.
After trading misses and time outs, Anoka’s last-second shot fell short of the target to help Andover return to the section final with a narrow win.
“I can’t say we changed a lot of x’s and o’s or the way we defended anything, but we tried to clean up the mistakes we made in the first half,” Anoka coach Ryan Tohm said. “Maybe we were too hyped up and let our emotions get the best of us with a couple technical fouls.
“In the second half we were focused and you tell them to leave it all out on the court and it was definitely better in the second half.”
Anoka scored the upset of the section knocking off No. 3 seed Cambridge-Isanti 70-66. The Tornadoes more than made up for a two-point deficit at the half with a 39-33 second half, keyed by 17 points from Grow and 16 points from Ledin and Barthold.
“All five starters were contributing to their piece of the puzzle,” Tohm said, pointing to the theme of playing as team instead of individuals after being an assistant varsity coach last year after many seasons with the freshmen program. “We wear that 100,000 heartbeats going on our shirts to get everyone going. There is no one magic answer.”
Tohm said he isproud of the way his team finished off the season, his first with the varsity program. “We scrapped [the plan] a few weeks into the season. It’s been a metamorphosis with trial and error. I feel great the way they played over the last 8-10 games of the season. I’m proud the way they played.”
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