DeLaSalle players celebrated at the final horn of their Class 3A championship victory over Red Wing Saturday night at the Target Center in Minneapolis. Photo: MARLIN LEVISON * [email protected]
A journey that began when Tyseanna Johnson and Allina Starr were grade-school kids came to a fitting close Saturday night as DeLaSalle defeated Red Wing 65-50 to win its third consecutive Class 3A state championship.
Johnson and Starr played together in youth basketball through junior high and into two high schools. They made five trips to the Class 3A state tournament — four with DeLaSalle and one with Minneapolis North in 2009 when they were eighth-graders.
Saturday’s title game at the Target Center marked final time the two suited up on the same team.
“I’m used to looking for her and she’s used to looking for me,” said Johnson, a forward who led the Islanders with 25 points. “It will be strange not to have her out there.”
That familiarity came up big when DeLaSalle was struggling with the upstart Wingers. After taking a 12-point lead, the Islanders seemed to relax. The Wingers, showing the grit they displayed all tournament, rallied to tie the game 28-28.
A basket just before halftime by Natalie Eull gave the Islanders a 30-28 at the intermission, but the defending champs appeared vulnerable.
“We lost focus in the first half,” said Starr, a senior guard. She struggled with her shot and foul trouble, but still scored 20 points. “We just had to calm down and relax,” she said.
DeLaSalle coach Faith Johnson Patterson, who has coached seven previous title winners, found the right way to deliver a message to her team.
“We didn’t play well,” Johnson Patterson said. “I said my little speech, then let Joi(cq) Jones do the talking.”
Jones, a starting guard until a knee injury in the playoffs ended her season, gave a passionate halftime speech. The senior scolded her teammates for underestimating the importance of the game.
“Joi talked to them and told them it was not okay. She said that she wished she could be out there and that they needed to do more,” Johnson Patterson said. “She got through to them where I couldn’t.”
The Islanders took Jones’ words to heart, holding Red Wing to just six field goals after halftime. In the meantime, Johnson and Starr carried the offensive load, combining for 27 of DeLaSalle’s 35 second-half points.
“They really picked up their defense in the second half,” said Red Wing’s Tesha Buck, the biggest victim of DeLaSalle’s defense. Buck was held to 13 points, 11 below her average. “Give them credit,” she said.
After the game, Johnson Patterson talked wistfully about seeing two star players leave.
“They’ve been with me for so long,” she said. “It’s like watching your daughters leave.
1. Tyseanna Johnson (DeLaSalle) - Johnson, the Iowa State commit, came out of the game after the 1st DeLaSalle possession looking like she twisted her ankle. That didn't seem to bother her as she played very well on both ends of the court for the Islanders. A standout point was when she picked Tesha Buck's pocket for an easy layup. She was outstanding on the glass, grabbing 12 rebounds and scoring 25 points.
2. Allina Starr (DeLaSalle) - Starr, the Auburn commit, opened the game scoring the first 4 points and scoring the first points of the 2nd half as well. She finished the game with 20 points and 5 rebounds. For the last 11 minutes of the second half she played with 4 fouls. Not an easy task for a player who likes to attack the basket and be aggressive on defense.
3. Macy Kelly (Red Wing) - The senior forward went hard to the basket and kept the Wingers close for awhile in the second half. Kelly fouled out with 2:30 left in the game but was the leading scorer with 17 points along with 4 rebounds and 2 steals.