Polars end state- tournament drought

North topples Tartan in section final

Despite having a turnaround season that saw it win 21 games, the North High School boys basketball team garnered only the No. 4 seed in Section 4, Class 4A playoffs. 

The three teams seeded ahead of the Polars had a combined 14 state-tournament appearances since the last time North made it, which was 1999.

None of that mattered to North, which has adopted an underdog persona all season. That attitude helped carry the Polars to the section championship and a berth in this week’s state tournament.

North got its ticket to state by knocking off School District 622 rival Tartan, 70-65, on Thursday, March 3, at East Ridge High School in Woodbury. 

Like they had done in a number of games this season, the Polars fell behind but were able to battle back and bring home the victory.

“We come out a little slow, but we fight back together and come out on top,” said North senior Adreon Wadlington after the game.

North trailed by six early but used an 18-6 run to take a five-point lead. The rest of the first half was back and forth and ended with the Polars ahead by two at 34-32.

Another lull in the second half resulted in North falling behind by eight points at 52-44. That deficit didn’t last long, however, as the Polars went on a 13-2 run sparked by sophomore Bryce Phillips, who scored eight points in that stretch.

Phillips capped the run with a layup as he was fouled. He drained the free throw to put North ahead 57-54 and the Polars would not relinquish that lead.

“This feels absolutely great; absolutely sensational,” said jubilant North senior Joe Johnson.

Sophomore Goodnews Kpegeol paced the Polars with 23 points and was surrounded by ecstatic North fans after the final buzzer sounded to end the intense game.

“Goodnews was really special tonight,” North head coach Joe Janquart said. “He hasn’t been playing well. He matured quite a bit. He grew up tonight. We said if we were going to win this game tonight, he had better be good.”

Among the bigger baskets the 5-foot-11 Kpegeol hit was a three-pointer that answered the Tartan triple that gave the Titans that eight-point lead.

“I think we all did it together,” Kpegeol said. “All of us work hard and all of us play as brothers. I think that’s what makes this win special.”

Phillips and senior Termaine Daniels added a dozen each and Wadlington finished with 11.

North was able to overcome a huge game from Tartan junior Jordan Horn, who hit for a season-high 31. He scored 21 of those on seven three-pointers. Joevon Walker added 16 for the Titans.

Just 16 days earlier, Tartan hosted North in a Metro East Conference showdown and blew out the Polars, 76-62. The Titans led by as many at 21 in the second half. That made the result in the section final even more surprising.

“No one really believed in us because we beat them by two at our house, and we go to their house and lose by 20,” said Wadlington. “We just came in and fought hard until the end.”

“All of us work hard and all of us play as brothers. I think that’s what makes this win special.”

Goodnews Kpegeol
North sophomore

Road to the Target Center

North bounced back from the Tartan loss to beat Mahtomedi in overtime to claim a share of the conference title, something the Polars hadn’t done since 1971. 

They then rallied for playoff victories over East Ridge and Woodbury to reach the section final. Then came the triumph that ended a 17-year state-tournament drought. 

Not bad for a team that won just six games a season ago.

“Last year we were down and out, 6-and-21,” said Wadlington. “We worked over the summer. We stayed together as a family, and we brought it together this season.”

The Class 4A state tournament starts March 9 with the quarterfinals at Target Center. The draw for the tournament was not available at press time for this edition of the Review. 

Teams that had already clinched a section championship as of March 3 were defending state champion Apple Valley, North, Hopkins, Blaine and Maple Grove. Three section championships were decided on March 4.

Regardless of how the tournament draw comes out, the Polars will take the court at Target Center on March 9. Games are scheduled for 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. that day.

 

Brian Meyers can be reached at bmeyers@lillienews.com or 651-748-7819. Follow him on Twitter @BMeyersNews.

 

Section 4AAAA boys basketball playoffs

Quarterfinals
Game 1 – Woodbury 99, White Bear Lake 73
Game 2 – North 52, East Ridge 47
Game 3 – Tartan 43, Stillwater 37
Game 4 – Cretin-Derham Hall 62, St. Paul Central 53

Semifinals
Game 5 – North 97, Woodbury 87, OT
Game 6 – Tartan 70, Cretin-Derham Hall 62

Championship game
Game 7 – North 70, Tartan 65

 

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