Apr. 1—There were five missed shots from 3-point range, some unforced turnovers and early foul trouble.
There was even an air ball on a free throw.
Things weren’t going well in the first 10 minutes for the Mankato West boys basketball team.
“We got off to a slow start, obviously,” West coach Jeremy Drexler said. “I thought we settled for some shots. We didn’t follow the scouting report and get back on defense because we knew they wanted to push the ball.
“We gave up that run to start the second half, and we had to battle for the rest of the game.”
West was able to get back in the game in the first half, but another slow start to the second half was more costly in a 67-63 loss to Richfield in the Class AAA quarterfinals Wednesday. It was West’s first state-tournament appearance since 2009.
“It’s an adjustment for sure,” West senior Mason Ellwein said. “Different gym, different environment. But we played well as a team. We left a few points out there that we should have had, but Richfield is a good team and they pulled through tonight.”
The Scarlets fell behind 15-8 after six minutes. West had six turnovers, was 0 for 5 from 3-point range and foul trouble was an issue for top scorers Mekhi Collins and Ellwein.
“That definitely took us out of our rhythm,” Ellwein said. “It was tough not being out there and not contributing.”
But Louis Magers hit a post basket and 3-pointer as the Scarlets began to rally. Magers’ drive gave West its first lead at 20-19 with 7 minutes remaining in the first half.
The advantage grew to 26-21 before Richfield made a burst, but Buom Jock and Magers each made two free throws in the final minute to let West lead 30-29 at halftime.
Richfield scored the first six points of the second half, then the teams traded baskets for the next six minutes, with few stops. West scored six straight with Aidan Corbett getting an assist and breakaway layup to close the gap to 48-46.
“We kept playing hard and trusting each other,” Ellwein said. “We were getting the ball inside and taking quality shots.”
But each time West got close, Richfield’s Lamar Grayson, one of five finalists for Mr. Basketball, had an answer. He scored 29 points, with 18 in the second half.
Jock’s 3-pointer brought West within 57-54 with 1:52 to play, but the Scarlets could not get the ball, down just one possession.
“It was a great experience, for sure,” Ellwein said. “We expected to win, but it was good to be here.”
Collins finished with 16 points, followed by Ellwein with 14 and Magers and Jock each with 13. Collins led the team with six rebounds, but Richfield had a 35-22 advantage in rebounding.
“We rebounded well all year, and I thought we did an OK job in the first half,” Drexler said. “But they really got after it on the glass.”
West, who had six juniors in the top-eight rotation, finishes the season at 16-5, while Richfield (16-4) advances to Thursday’s semifinals at Target Center.
“It was a great experience for everybody,” Drexler said. “We wanted to win this game and win a couple more, but we won a conference title and section title so that’s a step in the right direction. We’ll have a bull’s-eye on our backs next season so we’ll have to keep working and find replacements for our seniors.”
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.