Down their star, Falcons surge ahead

Armstrong senior Nick O’Hara drives into the lane during the Falcons 86-68 victory at Champlin Park Jan. 31. O’Hara finished the game with 13 assists. (Sun Post staff photo by Nick Clark)
Armstrong senior Nick O’Hara drives into the lane during the Falcons 86-68 victory at Champlin Park Jan. 31. O’Hara finished the game with 13 assists. (Sun Post staff photo by Nick Clark)

Konner Goettsche sat with his leg up and elevated on a chair next to him.

His position wasn’t one to envy, and it would be tough to blame him if he would have looked downtrodden.

Not even a week prior, the Armstrong senior was taken out on a play at the basket, and it resulted in an injured knee that will cost him the rest of his final basketball season with the Falcons.

It was devastating news for both Goettsche individually, and his team, which in an instant lost both its leading scorer and rebounder for the balance of the season.

But the resolve of everybody involved said something different.

Goettsche addressed the team Jan. 30, telling them that regardless of what had transpired, the expectations of a state tournament appearance were not going anywhere.

The next night, as his obviously inspired teammates opened up a 22-point first half lead in what would arguably be their most impressive victory to date, he took on his new role as part-time coach with the same determination he played with as Armstrong rolled early and often in an 86-68 victory at Champlin Park.

“He is like an assistant coach, and he’s a good one for us to have,” said Armstrong head coach Greg Miller. “He came in at halftime and said we should high-tow to [Ibrahim Cisse], who Konner said was getting open down low. We did it the first play of the second half, and we scored. It was a great call.”

Truthfully, just about everything Armstrong tried in the win could be classified the same.

Sophomore Evan Nolan got his touch back after an early-season write injury and torched Champlin Park for a career-high 29 points.

Senior Mitchell Biewen got open for a pair of huge first half three’s and finished with 15 points. Sophomore Jerome Dixson scored 10 points, and senior guard Nick O’Hara dished out what Miller said may be a school record 13 assists.

Together, the group was surgical in its precision throughout. Even when Champlin Park used a brief second half run to make a seven-point game, the Falcons didn’t blink.

“It was a lot of fun out there,” said Nolan, whose previous career-best was 15 points in a mid-December defeat at Maple Grove. “Losing Konner obviously hurts. He was a huge part of what we do, but he didn’t go anywhere. He’s still with us, and we have a bunch of guys that can step up and lead, and you saw that tonight.”

Miller pointed to a combination of the guard play, and Cisse’s ability to be a presence in the post as the biggest reason for success.

He also noted the eight-minute span Armstrong played in making a Jan. 29 defeat to top-ranked Park Center look respectable.

The Falcons struggled much of that game, scoring just 20 first half points and fell behind by 24 midway through the second half.

But a series of effort plays from little-used senior Matt Weisberg helped turn Armstrong around, sparking a late-game run that eventually ended 11 points short in a 79-68 defeat.

“We lost, but we really didn’t play well until late,” said Miller. “But came in and Matt was awesome. He took two charges, and really sparked us off the bench. We didn’t win, but those eight minutes proved to us we can still compete without Konner. Tonight, we proved we can win without him.”

Armstrong has a number of opportunities to prove it again before seasons end, starting with a trio of huge home games.

The Falcons hosted Maple Grove Feb. 5, and then No. 6 Eden Prairie Feb. 8 and No. 4 Osseo Feb. 12.

After then, the team has six more games before the start of the section playoffs begin in March, when the opportunity to fulfill Goettsche’s wish will be presented to everybody involved.

“When Konner talked to the guys, he said ‘we should except nothing less than going to state,’” Miller said. “I’ve been coaching a long time. I know how hard it is to go to state. But that is the attitude. Konner believes that, and so do the rest of these guys.”