In the end it was the Johnson Governors and coach Vern Simmons surprising Hopkins (and me) by out-running the perennially powerful Royals 86-78 for a fast-paced, entertaining and hard-fought victory. I was surprised a second time to find afterwards that MaxPreps had had the Governors rated ahead of the Royals going into the BestBuy tournament. Smart guys. But I doubt that there were many in the sizable crowd, which included Gopher coach Tubby Smith, who were not surprised by the outcome.
But the fact is the Governors were quicker and deeper and better than the Royals, and used a pair of big runs early in each half to win. Hopkins led only twice, once early at 8-6. From there Johnson went on a 13-4 run that they then extended to 20-10 for a 26-18 lead at 8:30 of the first half.
The Royals fought back to tie at 29, then took only their second lead of the night at 44-42 early in the second half. Th Governors responded again with a 16-3 run to lead 58-49 at 12:05. Still, Hopkins would not go away and fought back to within one at 64-63 and 66-65 but the Royals never caught up and Johnson made 9-of-13 free throws inside of two minutes to secure the win.
People say that Johnson is small with two 6-5 guys. And, of the five players who scored in double figures for the Governors, all but 6-4 forward Jordan Pluff are listed as guards. But the fact is that Hopkins goes 6-5, 6-5, 6-3 across their putative starting front line, and 6-5 D. J. Peterson is a guard. So Johnson gave up almost nothing in size, and what little they gave up they more than made up for in quickness, scrappiness and fearlessness.
If it's just raw size that you want, that's the visitors from Christian Faith Center Academy in North Carolina at 6-9, 6-8, 6-6, 6-6, and the Royals had already dispatched them the night before. So if you want to compete with Hopkins (or anybody), quickness may get you more than size.
My unofficial rebounding numbers, which I had at 42-42, bear that out. On the Governors' end, Hopkins had 24 defensive and Johnson 15 offensive rebounds, and on the other end, Hopkins had 18 offensive and Johnson 27 defensive rebounds. Both teams really got after it on the offensive glass, but as these numbers show, there were also six more misses on the Hopkins end and that, my friends, is the old ball game.
But first, about that pace. At 11:10 of the second half, Peterson scored for Hopkins. At 11:06, Johnson's Estan Tyler was fouled while driving the far baseline. A minute-and-a-half later, at 9:30, Demitri Conwell scored for the Governors, with an assist from Anthony Lee. At 9:24, Hopkins' Zach Stahl scored on the other end. And, yet, playing at the kind of pace, I had the turnovers at Johnson 12 and Hopkins 10. So, there were a few turnovers that led to some transition offense, but mostly the pace was being forced off of the defensive glass and even after made baskets.
Hopkins took the early 8-6 lead by getting the ball to Marvin Singleton inside. Singleton scored 3 of the Royals' first 4 and 4 of their first 6. Singleton finished the first half with 14 points, but scored only 4 in the second as Hopkins seemed to stop looking inside.
Johnson came back with that first, confidence-building 20-10 rush, and showed that they can score a lot of different ways. Out of 9 baskets, 3 came off the offensive glass, 2 in transition and 1 on the 3. Tyler had a 3, 2 put-backs and an assist during the rush and 6 other Governors scored.
It was more of the same after Hopkins came back to lead 44-42--four free throws, then a pretty baseline drive by Anthony Lee. Then, transition lay-ups by by Roosevelt Scott and Lee, the former coming off a made Hopkins basket, sandwiched around a throw by Marcus Marshall also coming out of a transition rush. Finally Scott hit a 3 ball and Tyler a 2 to force a Royals' timeout.
Hopkins responded with a 14-6 run to get within one, as they looked inside to Singleton for a couple of buckets. But Johnson then scored on 4 straight possessions and 6-of-8 to force the free throw shooting contest.
Tyler led Johnson with 20 points, whereupon the tournament committee ratified the obvious by naming him MVP. Lee, with 10, and Donte Warlick, with 6, were also instrumental in protecting the ball and getting Johnson into their offensive sets. Jordan Pluff and Roosevelt Scott played big inside and scored 16 and 12.
Singleton and Joe Coleman led Hopkins with 18 each, but Singleton was not much of a factor after the 4:00 mark of the first half. Coleman, who scored 43 in the Royals' season opener and came in averaging 28, got off just 9 shots. So it appears that Johnson took away a couple of Hopkins' preferred options on offense. The Royals' other guards, Peterson and sophomore Siyani Chambers, added 22, while Jeremiah Tolbert, freshman Riley Dearring and sophomore Zach Stahl, who play more on the inside, added 19 among them.
So Hopkins had nice scoring balance. Except that nobody could hit the 3 ball. If you're one of those folks who are inclined to celebrate the Royals' loss, it really came down to 2-for-16 shooting from behind the arc. Whether that is easily addressed remains to be seen, but Hopkins and Johnson matched up pretty much dead even other than that.
On 2s, for example, Johnson made an unofficial 28-of-53 and Hopkins 25-of-51.
Faith Academy 78 Henry Sibley 74
Sibley pretty much had this 3rd place match-up in the bag, leading 59-52 at the 3:36 mark, when 7-foot Jake Kreuser fouled out. Faith scored the last 7 points of regulation and the first 4 of overtime and Sibley never got within 3 points again. Kreuser scored 13 and 6-8 Mike Rostampour added 10 and both were very impressive against and equally tall opponent. Kreuser in particular has come miles from the awkward sophomore I last saw. He has increased his strength and, especially, his agility. From the waist down he's terrific. If there's a problem it might be the hands. Rostampour's only problem is that his one-handed jumper didn't go down. Whether that was unique to tonight's game or a recurring problem, I don't know, but it's an awkward little shot. Still, both will be playing D1 ball at Lafayette and Valpo. Both will do well.
The real news was Sibley's new guard tandem of Jordan Jackson, a transfer from St. Paul Como Park, and sophomore Dante Grant. Jackson vastly outplayed the Faith guards and in scoring a game-high 30 points while Grant added 11.
But, no, the real news was Faith 8th grader Andrew Wiggins. Some Minnesotans have heard that Apple Valley's Tyus Jones may be the best 8th grader in the country, but anybody in the crowd last night knows different. Besides, I'm told that Jones has "8th grade legs." The 6-6 Wiggins, meanwhile, doesn't have 8th grade anything. His dad, Mitch, was a first round NBA draft pick in 1984 and played 6 NBA seasons. His mom ran track in the 1984 Olympics. Wiggins led Faith with 22.
Chicago Julian 72 Milwaukee Marshall 51
Julian hammered Marshall 72-51 for 5th place as senior guard Walter Lemon, Jr., scored 20 for the winners. He's rated the #21 player in Chicago-land,so you'll be hearing more from him. Still, while the best guards of the day--Tyler of Johnson, and Coleman of Hopkins--are juniors, Lemon's got nothing on the completely unheralded Jackson of Henry Sibley among senior guards who took the court at Si Melby yesterday. Jackson may have put himself into the running for a D1 scholarship with last night's performance.