The Armstrong and Cooper boys basketball teams did not face off during the regular season, but the inter-city rivals played with a lot on the line to open the Section 6AAAA tournament March 8.
Armstrong, the No. 3 seed in the tournament, hosted Cooper, the tournament’s sixth seed, after ending the regular season with a tough game.
The Armstrong boys basketball team knew it was in for a tough task when it played its 2016-17 regular season finale against Champlin Park, the last undefeated team remaining in Class 4A.
Armstrong played to a 38-38 tie in the first half, and eventually took a 46-41 lead in the second half.
“It seemed to me that we were playing pretty good defense, and we did a few things on their pick and roll that they made adjustments to and got to the rim more,” Armstrong head boys basketball coach Greg Miller said. “We got some fast breaks out of that and we were poised.
“We handled their pressure well and did a good job handling the ball. We started forcing some turnovers, but we then got a bit tired. If we can play like that, we can make a run.”
Senior Gabe Hostetler said confidence was key in helping the Falcons take the lead.
“We know that we can play with any team in the state, so we came in with that confidence and it paid off,” Hostetler said. “We made the plays we needed to put us in a position to win.
“We always play as a team. We don’t care who scores, we just want to win.”
Champlin Park eventually battled back to take as much as a 15-point lead before winning 85-75.
Despite the loss, the Falcons were still proud of the way they fought.
“It gives us a lot of confidence knowing we can stay with them,” Green said. “Toward the end we kept fighting.
“Knowing we can stick with a team like this proves we can stick with anybody.”
Davonte Saeed-El led the Falcons with 22 points, while fellow guard Isaiah Rollins scored 12.
“Davonte is underrated because he is small, but he is a great player,” Miller said. “He is one of the best point guards in the metro area.
“He and Rollins make a great guard combination.”
Hostetler scored 13 points on 5-for-7 shooting, with three three-pointers.
“This is what we need from Gabe in the playoffs,” Miller said. “Just to be real active, rebounding and playing D, and he knocked down some threes.
“He’s been waiting for it, we’ve been waiting for it, so that’s nice to see and we hope that continues in the playoffs.”
Race Thompson scored only three first-half points, but he ended the game with 11 points and eight rebounds.
“He had three points in the first half and we played great,” Miller said. “That just shows you that you can try to take Race out, but we have good players.
“We wouldn’t be in the position we are, beating a lot of good teams, if we didn’t have a lot of good players.”
Cooper ended the season with a 12-12 record after falling 61-58 to St. Louis Park Feb. 28, and 79-49 to Chaska March 3.
“We have been kind of up and down, but we’re feeling pretty good,” Powell said. “I think we feel good and we will be ready to play hard next week.”
Despite a three-game losing streak to end the season, Powell believes his team will be able to play well against Armstrong in the section opener.
“We just can’t get caught up in the other stuff that is going on,” Powell said. “We just have to go out and play and they have Race, so we will have to contain him.
“We have our work cut out for us, but if we do the things we do and play hard, then I think we will give ourselves a chance.”
Cooper has played in plenty of big games this season, as the Hawks played talented teams in Jefferson and Chaska, while also taking on Hopkins and other over the course of the season.
While the Hawks did not play well during those games, Powell is confident that the experience gained will only aid the Hawks in the section tournament.
“We had a couple mental breakdowns in there and we tend to have some mental things going on when there is a big crowd,” Powell said. “We have played some big games this year, which should help us not get overly excited or overly nervous.”
Contact Chris Chesky at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @MNSunSports or @SunSportsChris.