District Duel Doesn't Disappoint

To North St. Paul where the Polars host the 4 vs 5 matchup in section 4AAAA.  This one with lots of extra spice as its against district rival Tartan.  These teams come in ranked 10 and 11 in the final state poll and both 22-4.  Late arriving full house on hand.  The outstanding NSP pep band also in the house with one of the largest cheerleading squads you'll see.  Add in the element that its North St. Paul as the high seed against the tradition power Tartan for even more spice.

Game Time:
Offense was really hard to come by in this one.  9-5 North just over 4 minutes in and that doesn't move when Tartan takes a timeout at the 12:50 mark.  3 straight Tartan turnovers allow the Polars to extend the lead to 14-7 at the 9:11 mark and Tartan needs another timeout.  Just sloppy play driving into multiple guys.  Tartan getting long possessions but not making any shots.  The lead grows to 21-11 at the 3:20 mark.  Tartan rallies with a putback, then a blocked shot leads to a Brady Hartman triple and the Titans add 2 FTs to finish a 7-0 run.  Tytist Dean with a late triple.  North St. Paul takes a 26-20 lead to halftime.  Nobody with more than 5 points in the half.  Antwan Kimmons lit up the Polars in the regular season game here but had only 1 field goal which was an offensive rebound.

Tartan offense continuing to struggle as they don't get their 1st FG of the second half until 12:35 left.  NSP opens the half on a 7-0 run with turnovers being a factor again.  Cahlil Golden's main job was defense in this one (more on that below) but his putback for a 3 point play and layup off a turnover were 2 of the plays in that run.  33-20 NSP with 14:27 to play.  Finally some shots start falling for Tartan.  They knock down 3 bombs.  Then Goodnews Kpegeol commits his 4th foul with 10:04 left.  Kimmons makes 1 of the 2 free throws.  Good timeout at that point from North St. Paul as they lead 38-34.

Brenden Lankford getting to the rim uncontested as the ballhandler in the pick and roll for 2 easy layups.  He's been a center for as long as I can remember. But tonight he handled the ball quite a bit and adeptly at that.  M'akil Weems with a couple of buckets to counter that for Tartan as the Titans stay within 6.  Then a big momentum 3 from Dean at the 5:50 mark to put the Polars up 9 and the crowd loves it.

Tartan isn't done.  Kimmons puts back a miss off a turnover.  Weeks drives for 2 tough hoops.  Kimmons converts another turnover into a free throw.  47-45 NSP hanging on with 2:05 left.  They will hold it.  Tartan lets it go before giving their 1 final foul with 52.8 left.  They'll go for a steal on the inbound but foul which pays off because the front end is missed.  Andre Jenkins-Whitmore attacks and scores with 31 seconds left and we're all tied.  North St. Paul gets it to the front court and takes time with 13.7 left.  Kpegeol gets the inbounds and attacks.  He misses but gets it back and is fouled with 3 seconds left.  He makes both.  Tartan gets 1 last chance but a desperation attempt from 3 is no good.  North St. Paul wins a thriller 49-47.

Post Game:
Tartan finishes 22-5 overall, 12-4 in the Metro East (3rd).  That's a impressive season for a group that only had Kimmons coming back from a very experienced and talented group last year.  They'll have a ton returning next year including Kimmons.  Antwan Kimmons finishes with 12 points to lead the Titans.  M'Alik Weems with good minutes off the bench and 10 points.

North St. Paul improves to 23-5 and they won the Metro West at 15-1.  They will play Cretin-Derham Hall Saturday at 7 PM in Hastings.  Nobody reached double figures in scoring for the Polars.  Brenden Lankford with 9 points to lead the way.  Goodnews Kpegeol with 8.  Dajuan Carter with 8 off the bench.  Carter and Lankford will be the backbone of the roster next year as the Polars lose 7 seniors who played tonight.

Strategy Session:
Now lets get to the fun stuff.  Let's start with the final play call.  Nothing fancy.  Just get the ball inbounds to Kpegeol via a box set and zipper screen for him.  Then straight 1-4 low.  I thought Weems did a very nice job on him all night but the offensive rebound was a killer and he made the clutch free throws.  Coach Johnson also made a point of trying to immediately snuff out any Tartan run as he took a quick timeout in each half to stop runs and keep the lead.  None of this MoKiller wait until we score nonsense.

The defensive scheme that NSP had was really interesting to watch too.  It was executed well and a very sound plan.  For the 1st significant stretch of the half, they went 1-3-1 zone.  With their length and athletes, a very reasonable defensive choice.  Tartan definitely not a shooting team and it showed up tonight.  Despite that success, for the last 10-12 minutes of each half, the Polars switched to man defense.  OK that also makes sense since that is their standard.  But I loved the idea that they not only faceguarded Kimmons out of it, they decided to take the nearest 2nd defender and double him on any catch.  Side note: I once did something similar to McKinley Wright in fall league with great impact and he was not at all pleased.  This man to man idea totally took Kimmons out of the game and those doubles forced him to turn it over initially.  Kimmons had 3 field goals and 2 of them were putbacks.  He did wonders for himself by attacking the glass for rebounds on both ends.  North didn't even save the double team portion as a 2nd half wrinkle which would have been a very reasonable tactic as well.  Tartan had more success against the man as they were able to attack off the bounce.  But the zone kept Tartan very off balance as well.  They did have some short corner success in the 1st half and NSP quickly adjusted and got out of it.  Overall, hat tip to Damien Johnson and his staff

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