Boys basketball: King, Caledonia stymie Perham in state Class AA quarterfinal
The Perham boys basketball team struggled to dig out of an early hole in the first round of the state tournament on Tuesday. The loss against No. 2 Caledonia knocks the Yellowjackets into the consolation bracket.
MINNEAPOLIS — The Perham boys basketball team knew it had its hands full with standout guard Eli King and the Caledonia Warriors. Despite a 51-40 defeat in the Class AA quarterfinals, the Yellowjackets proved they belong among the state's elite.
Caledonia (24-1), the Section 1-AA champion, averages 74 points per game. But on Tuesday night at the Target Center, Perham (18-11) stuck to its defensive guns and held one of the state's best offenses to just 51 points.
"With this group of guys, it's as good of a defensive team as I've had in a long time," Yellowjackets head coach Dave Cresap said. "We're not blessed with super speed, and we're not real big, but they give their heart and soul to playing good defense every time. We guarded (Caledonia) hard, and they made some tough shots. We wanted to force a couple guys to make shots. Of course, tonight, they made them. You have to pick your poison against a team like this."
Perham got out on the wrong foot early in the first half. Caledonia scored the first 12 points of the game before junior Micah Thompson got the Yellowjackets on the scoreboard. It was a lead Perham cut into, but couldn't erase.
"That pressure got after us. In that first eight minutes, we were scared to death," Cresap said. "We were real jittery and real tentative. We didn't get into a flow until later in the first half."
The Warriors took a 17-2 lead on a 3-pointer from King, one of the state's Mr. Basketball finalists. King is committed to play Division I ball at Iowa State next year. Thompson was tasked with guarding the 6-foot-3 star shooting guard, who finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks.
"Yeah, he's very good," Thompson said. "It's pretty clear why he's a finalist for Mr. Basketball. He's very quick, very bouncy and very athletic. My focus tonight was to try and stay in front of him and stop him from creating. I knew he was going to score, but I want to take away the part of his game that sets up his teammates. I can tell you right now that he is the best kid I've ever guarded."
Cresap enjoyed the challenge he gave Thompson. In the Yellowjackets' run to the state tournament, they focused on Pelican Rapids' Timmy Guler and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton's Owen Leach, forcing role players to beat them. Even in allowing King to score 17 of the Warriors' 51 points, Cresap was happy with how Thompson approached his matchup.
"I think it got Micah in the mindset that he can play with some of the best guys this state has to offer," Cresap said of Thompson guarding King. "That kid is a top-five finalist for Mr. Basketball, a McDonald's award winner and an Iowa State Division I commit. Micah did everything in his power to slow him down."
Perham trailed 20-4 with 8:44 left in the first half before going on a 14-9 run. The Yellowjackets had the ball down nine points in the final 30 seconds before Lewis Doyle forced a mid-court turnover. Ja'Shon Simpson scored two of his 11 points on a fast-break layup to close out the first half.
"We had that turnover there at the end of the first half to put us down 11 instead of nine points. That was a bigger play than people realize," Cresap said. "Being down nine, or maybe even seven, and getting some of those layups to go early in the second half would've had us in a different spot."
What hurt the Yellowjackets more than anything, even King, was missed opportunities. Perham was 3-for-11 from the free-throw line and missed a handful of wide-open looks from the field, making it harder to climb back against a team of Caledonia's caliber.
"We were 3-for-11 from the line and missed three layups to start the second half," Cresap said. "If we get a few of those free throws and make those layups, we're right in this game."
Perham strung together an 8-0 run and a 7-0 run to pull within nine points of a tie game two separate times. With 2:53 left, junior Alex Ohm got a driving layup to go to make it a 47-37 game. That was the closest Perham would get before Caledonia pulled away one last time.
Cresap pulled his starters in the final minute and let his reserves take the floor. Senior Josh Peterson closed the game with a 3-pointer. It was a reminder of what this journey is all about for the Yellowjackets.
"All of us juniors are playing for the seniors," Thompson said. "The expectation for us, coming into the season, wasn't to make state. Nobody really thought that of us because we didn't have a ton of experience. But now that we're down here, it's time to play for the seniors. This is their last chance, so let's play hard for them."
Tuesday was an embodiment of just how far Perham has come defensively. It's a team that believes they can hang with the state's best. The Yellowjackets held opponents to an average of 44.8 points in five playoff games, which is almost five points better than their regular-season average.
"We all know we are going to play defense hard," Thompson said. "As we keep playing, it keeps getting better. Caledonia is a team that gets a lot of turnovers from its full-court pressure defense. For us to hold them to 51 points is impressive. I'm glad we did because it's a positive we can take into the next game. Whoever we play is going to get the same Perham defense that's very sticky. We're going to get you."
Perham isn't just happy to be down in the Twin Cities. The expectation was to come into the state tournament and play competitive basketball. Now, the focus shifts to a matchup against Pequot Lakes in the consolation semifinal on Wednesday at 8 p.m. at Concordia-St. Paul.
"I'm not satisfied with just being here," Cresap said. "We came down here and showed we belong.
"Right now, we're focused on (Pequot)," Thompson said. "Once we win, then we're going to go get that consolation championship. We know what we want, and that's to play two more games together as a team. There are eight Class AA teams down here out of 126. We're happy to be part of those eight teams, but now we need to finish hard."
PERHAM 18 22 - 40
CALEDONIA 29 22 - 51
TEAM TOTALS- PERHAM- 16-43 FGA, 5-15 3PA, 3-11 FTA, 33 rebounds, 10 assists, 17 turnovers, 3 steals, 1 block; CALEDONIA- 19-42 FGA, 6-19 3PA, 7-10 FTA, 25 rebounds, 10 assists, 13 turnovers, 11 steals, 6 blocks
PERHAM- Micah Thompson 14 points, 11 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal; Chas Melvin 3 points, 2 rebounds, 1 assist; Soren Anderson 9 points, 1 block, 4 rebounds, 4 assists; Marcus Belka 2 rebounds; Jacob Daniels 3 points, 5 rebounds, 1 steal; Alex Ohm 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists; Josh Peterson 3 points; Gage Aanenson 1 steal; Michael Schwantz 1 rebound; Noah Thompson 1 rebound
CALEDONIA SCORING- Christopher Pieper 2, Eli King 1, Jackson Koepke 8, Ja’Shon Simpson 11, Than Meiners 10, Mason King 3