ST. PAUL - Inside Hamline University's Hutton Arena, with its wooden bleachers folded up on both sides of the court and a warmth blanketing the small gymnasium that was first opened in 1937, the Marshall boys' basketball team ran through drills and strategies Friday afternoon in preparation for its upcoming game against St. Paul Johnson.
Practice was a welcome diversion for the Tigers following Thursday's 68-65 overtime loss to unbeaten Austin in the Class AAA state tournament semifinals at Target Center, a game where missed foul shots and 19 turnovers proved to be Marshall's undoing. Their 17-game winning streak snapped and hopes of a hoisting a championship trophy dashed, the Tigers used their final practice of the season to try to refocus on a different target.
"You just have to kind of regroup," Marshall head coach Travis Carroll said. " It was good to be able to come into practice today and have another workout with the guys.
"They had a good workout today, and at the end of the day you have to look at the opportunity in front of you and not look behind you. In front of us, we have a chance to play for a third-place finish in the state of Minnesota, and you know what, that's a pretty good accomplishment if we're able to get the job done."
One day isn't enough time to fully recover from losing a state semifinal game, especially one that came down to the wire. Something that gives the Tigers solace is that they know they gave their best effort in the defeat.
"We're top four in our class, so that's still a great thing," Marshall senior Hunter Peterson said. "And like Coach said in our huddle, a lot of people came up to us after the game and told us we did a really good job and really played as a team. That's always great to hear from people, even after a loss."
Marshall (28-3 overall) and St. Paul Johnson (22-8) will battle for the third-place trophy at 2 p.m. today at Concordia University-St. Paul coming off very different semifinal performances.
While the Tigers were in a back-and-forth affair against Austin that saw 18 lead changes and seven ties, the Governors were throttled, 86-59, by top seed and defending champion DeLaSalle.
The Marshall players and coaches know DeLaSalle has made a lot of good teams look bad this season and expect a tough challenge from the Governors in what will likely be a fast-paced game between two teams that like to get up and down the court quickly.
"They're an athletic team so we just have to make sure we don't give up driving lanes or easy baskets and that we get back on defense," Marshall senior forward Derek Buysse said.
St. Paul Johnson is led by 6-foot-3 senior forward Quashingm Smith-Pugh and guard Jalen Mobley, who average 18.5 and 13.5 points per game, respectively. Smith-Pugh had 20 points and 15 rebounds in the Governor's 64-54 quarterfinal win over Delano.
Marshall's strength all season has been its balance and depth, with six or seven players that can score in double figures in any given game. Having played with each other since they were in elementary school, the Tiger seniors have credited their well-developed chemistry for much of their success.
Today will be the final time the seven Marshall seniors will get to play with each other in a high school game. A championship is no longer in the cards, but the seniors realize they still have an opportunity to accomplish something special in their final game together.
"It kind of sucks knowing we only have one more game together as a group after growing together as a team this year," Peterson said. "It'll be rough and it's kind of hard thinking about it, but it will be fun getting that one last opportunity to play with each other and hopefully we can go out and get a win."