MANKATO - Before the Section 2AAA boys basketball championship on Thursday, the Marshall coaching staff had focused on three areas the Tigers would need to control in order to knock off No. 1 seed Waconia and advance to the state tournament: Rebounds, turnovers and free throws.
Marshall lost the battle of the boards, 34-33, turned the ball over 12 times to Waconia's 11 and saw the Wildcats attempt seven more free throws than the Tigers.
Though they technically lost in each of those three statistics, the Tigers won the overall battle, earning their first state tournament berth since 2011 behind a 56-48 win at Minnesota State-Mankato's Taylor Center.
Photo by Travis Andries
Let the celebration begin: Marshall’s Derek Buysse (21), Bryce Johnson and Adam Kovash react after the Tigers wrapped up the Section 2AAA championship Thursday night. See more photos at firstname.lastname@example.org
Riley Sharbono led the way with a game-high 20 points, while Derek Buysse chipped in with a 13-point, 10-rebound double-double. But the Tigers were most effective on the defensive end, holding the Wildcats to under 30 percent shooting for the game.
Marshall led 21-17 at halftime after holding the Wildcats to 26 percent from the field over the first 18 minutes. The Tigers hit a few offensive snags of their own in the opening half, going scoreless over the final 6:22 of the half.
"We kind of had a struggle finishing the first half offensively, but a credit to our guys defensively," Marshall head coach Travis Carroll said. "It was 21-15 with six minutes left, but it was only 21-17 at halftime."
The Tigers and Wildcats had been tied 15-15 with 8:33 remaining in the first half, when Carl Douglas made a stunning defensive stop.
After a turnover by Sharbono just after mid-court, Waconia's Josh Lenz looked to have an easy, fastbreak layup ahead of him. Douglas, however, tracked down Lenz and at the last moment leapt and pinned the ball against the backboard.
On Marshall's ensuing trip down the court, Buysse hit the first of back-to-back 3-pointers. His second, at 6:22, gave Marshall the 21-17 lead.
"Our first responsibility was rebounding, then take care of the ball and get it up the floor," Buysse said of the Tigers' offensive approach. "We had nice cutting action and I got the open shot."
Against the taller, physical Wildcats, Buysse also earned his stripes on the glass, with a team-high 10 rebounds (six of which came on the defensive end).
"That was big, Derek coming in in the first half and knocking down those two big 3-pointers," Carroll said. "But how about Derek rebounding? Look at the size disadvantage we're at but who's the guy elevating above everyone else, it's Derek."
Marshall opened the second half with a 15-2 run, as Hunter Peterson muscled his way to four of his 11 points in the opening minutes, while Sharbono added five points of his own. Buysse drilled his third 3 of the game with 13:07 left on the clock to put the Tigers up 36-19.
"The message at halftime was to continue to play hard at the defensive end, and then offensively we had to do some work and try to create some looks for our guys," Carroll said. "Hunter came out and hit some big shots and he was guarding one of the other team's best players so that was big."
The Tigers, who shot 45 percent for the game, were able to effectively attack the paint during the opening five minutes of the second half, while knocking down enough perimeter jumpshots to keep the Wildcats honest.
"We wanted to attack the rim, but they gave us open looks and we knocked them down," Sharbono said. "Coach had confidence in us and we had confidence in each other to knock them down."
Waconia answered with a 14-2 run during the next four minutes to cut Marshall's lead to 38-33.
The Wildcats would get no closer, though, as Peterson and Spencer Petrich scored back-to-back buckets in the paint to bring the Marshall lead back to nine points at 42-33 with 7:02 to play.
Marshall's lead would hover between nine and six points for the remainder of the game, mostly due to their improved play in those three key areas.
The Tigers controlled the boards late as Sharbono scored on his own putback with 4:14 to play before releasing a guttural scream. Marshall also handled the ball better late, giving the Wildcats no free possessions. Finally, when the clock became as much an issue for Waconia as the score, the Tigers made sure to capitalize on each free throw opportunity. Marshall was 9-for-10 from the line in the second half, and all but one came in the final 2:17 seconds.
"We didn't get many free throws in the first half, but in the second half when we needed those free throws to go down, our guys were knocking them down," Carroll said. "We were at a disadvantage size-wise, but our guys fought through that. And the turnovers, we had a few uncharacteristic turnovers at the end of the first half. Part of the message at halftime was take care of the ball a little bit better."
For Sharbono, a junior, the victory means he gets at least one more game with the seven seniors also on the roster.
"This is a group that I've had a lot of fun with, and being a junior you never know if you're going to get back here," Sharbono said of his inspiration during the game. "It doesn't matter what grade you're in, you never know if you're going to get this opportunity again."
Meanwhile for Carroll, who has taken the Tigers to the state tournament in his first season as a head coach, the moment didn't sink in right away.
"It's going to take a couple hours," he said. "I'm just happy for the kids."
The Tigers don't know who or when they will play in their first game at state; seeding for the tournament will be completed Saturday. They do, however, know they will play sometime on Wednesday at Williams Arena.
Hunter Peterson 5 0-0 11, Austin Saugstad 1 4-7 6, Derek Buysse 5 0-0 13, Riley Sharbono 7 5-5 20, Tanner Bukowski 1 0-0 2, Spencer Petrich 2 0-0 4. Totals 21 9-12 56. 3-pointers 5 (Buysse 3) Rebounds 33 (Buysse 10, Sharbono 6, Peterson 5) Assists 15 (Bukowski 4, Sharbono 3, Saugstad 3, Peterson 3) Steals 5 (Peterson 2) Blocks 2 (Bukowski, Carl Douglas) Turnovers 12 Total Fouls 16.
Matt Rachey 2 2-2 7, Jacob Herd 3 0-0 9, Josh Lenz 2 0-2 4, Ryan Boll 8 1-3 17, Wylie Ferron 0 6-8 6, Alex Chandler 0 3-4 3. Totals 16 12-19 48. 3-pointers 4 (Herd 3) Rebounds 34 (Ferron 10, Lenz 6) Assists 7 (Lenz 3) Steals 5 (Chandler 2) Blocks 4 (Boll 2) Turnovers 11 Total Fouls 16.
Halftime Score: Marshall 21, Waconia 17