Boys Basketball: Cannon Falls headed to 2AA-North finals
NEW PRAGUE - Cannon Falls took every punch that Waterville-Elysian-Morristown could dish out. But the Bombers saved their haymaker for the final minutes.
Trailing 52-51 with 5 minutes, 35 seconds left, Cannon Falls closed out Thursday's Section 2AA-North semifinal game on a 13-6 run to punch its ticket to the sub-section finals with a 64-58 victory at New Prague High School.
"It was like a heavyweight fight; back and forth," said Bombers head coach Josh Davisson. "We took the lead to start, they took a lead, and it went back and forth."
Cannon Falls senior post Noah Callister added, "It was pretty exciting the whole way. We made smart plays at the right time and stuck with it as a team the whole game."
Going against a 20-win Buccaneers lineup was no small feat, but the third-seeded Bombers have been through battles in their previous two games: a 75-72 double-overtime victory over Kasson-Mantorville and a 37-34 win over Kenyon-Wanamingo in the first round of the sub-section playoffs.
In Thursday's game against the sub-section's No. 2 seed, neither team led by double digits, with Cannon Falls building a 61-54 lead as the biggest gap in the game.
"With that double-overtime win, our kids started to show some confidence, some heart and a will to win," Davisson said. "Then with that Kenyon game, that carried over into this one."
Cannon Falls faces a familiar foe in the North sub-section finals on Monday against St. Peter. Back on Dec. 29, the Saints knocked off the Bombers in a 69-60 victory at a holiday tournament in St. Peter. Monday's contest will take place at the Taylor Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato.
Top-seeded St. Peter advanced after a 78-53 victory over No. 4 Belle Plaine.
"If we keep playing like this against really good teams, we can play with anyone," said Cannon Falls junior guard Jordan Lundell. "We played with St. Peter at St. Peter, and I think we can go down to Mankato and beat them if we keep playing the way we've been playing."
Paramount to the Bombers' success on Thursday was their halftime adjustments. As WEM (20-8) built a 30-26 halftime lead thanks to dominant play in the paint, Cannon Falls had to force the Bucs to the outside.
"We knew they were a physical team," Callister said. "At the half, we went into the locker room and decided we were going to shut them down and adjust to what they had."
Offensively, the Bombers (18-10) moved away from the post and concentrated their efforts on the perimeter with flare screens, putting the ball in the hands of Lundell and Brock Peterson. The backcourt duo, along with Callister, helped Cannon Falls sink five of its six 3-pointers after halftime.
"We started running (flare screens) and we were open all the time," Lundell said. "When they adjusted and covered the flare, we just found ways to get open and adjust to what they were doing."
With the game tied at 40-40 with 9:37 remaining, Peterson drilled a 3-pointer that put Cannon Falls back on top. On the next possession, Peterson was fouled on a 3-point shot. At the line, he went a perfect 3-for-3, bumping the Bombers' lead to 46-40 with 9:06 left.
"I don't think I'd trade my two guards for anyone in our conference or our section," Davisson said. "Both Brock and Jordan do a great job, as well as Paul (Rolfes) on defense.
"They spend a lot of time shooting the ball in the gym and I trust them to take a shot at any time. We had one inbounds play late in the game where we got it to Jordan, and before he even shot the ball, I knew it was in."
While Lundell went off for a game-high 22 points, he found himself in a dual with the Bucs' Cole Pope, who scored 12 of his 20 points in the second half. With 5:35 remaining on the clock, Pope hit a jumper to put WEM back in front, 52-51.
In Cannon Falls' next possession, Lundell drilled a deep 2-pointer to put the Bombers up 53-52, sparking a 10-2 run.
"That was huge," Callister said of Lundell's performance. "It was fun to see (Lundell and Pope) go back and forth."
After Austin Noble sank both free throws on a 1-and-1 to put Cannon Falls up 59-54, the Bucs nearly got a momentum swing after a double team at midcourt produced a steal. But Callister raced down the court and forced a missed shot. Coming up with the loose ball, Callister went to the line and hit a pair of free throws to make it 61-54 with 46.5 seconds left.
"We got a strong group of seniors that just don't want it to end, and Noah has been great in the last month or so," Davisson said of Callister, who finished with 16 points and five rebounds. "He's really been willing the team to move on."
Free throws became vital for the Bombers as they hit 9 of 10 in the last four minutes. They finished 18-for-22 from the charity stripe to clinch the victory.
"Everyone hit shots when we needed them, including the free throws down the stretch," Callister said.
Peterson finished with nine points and three assists, and Austin Noble went 3 of 4 from the free-throw line, finishing with seven points for Cannon Falls. Nicholas Kaplan and Tucker Kinniry each had 12 for WEM, with Kaplan snatching seven rebounds in the loss.