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Woodbury's Diallo Powell plays defense Wednesday against the Hopkins Royals. Bulletin photo by Patrick Johnson

Hopkins ends Woodbury's 2012 hoop dreams

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Woodbury took the top team in Minnesota to overtime Wednesday, but the combination of fouls and missed free throws eventually caught up to the underdogs in the quarterfinal round of the Class AAAA state tournament.

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After surviving under a second-half Woodbury surge, the three-time defending state champions proved the superior team in the critical overtime frame, winning 82-75.

"We all know we played one heck of a regulation and fell short in overtime," said senior Woodbury forward Connor McKeen.

Shot making - especially from the free-throw line - proved to be Woodbury's weakness. Woodbury shot 44 percent from the floor and 50 percent from the free throw line.

"We really didn't shoot real well," Woodbury head coach Scott Swansson said after the game. "They just weren't falling."

Woodbury's free-throw struggles were magnified in the second half, where the unseeded Royals connected on just three of eight shots, allowing the Hopkins Royals to stay close.

That problem, Swansson said, was likely what kept Woodbury from advancing to the state semifinals.

"I don't think we would have gotten to overtime if we'd have made a free throw," he said.

Hopkins head coach Ken Novak Jr. acknowledged that during the second half, "the rhythm was (Woodbury's)."

"They gave us some breaks," he said of Woodbury's free throw struggles. "We feel very fortunate that we are even able to play the next game."

Meanwhile, Hopkins was nearly unflappable from the charity stripe, where its players connected on 82 percent of their shots. Woodbury sent Hopkins' Siyani Chambers to the line 24 times, where he made 22 shots - a new tournament record - on his way to a 25-point performance.

Hopkins got a major advantage in overtime, when Rickey Suggs and Renard Suggs - two of Woodbury's top three scorers - fouled out of the game.

Woodbury led in several categories, including turnover points, second-chance points, bench points and points in the paint, where they dominated Hopkins 42-22.

Junior Renard Suggs was Woodbury's leading scorer, with 21 points. Seniors Connor McKeen and Rickey Suggs scored 15 and 10 points, respectively.

Playing against the No. 1-seeded Hopkins Royals didn't faze the players, said Swansson and one of his top players.

"We weren't intimidated," McKeen said.

The big game

Indeed, Woodbury showed no signs of weakness early in the game, stretching its lead to seven points with less than 10 minutes left in the first half.

The Hopkins Royals came out of a time out with renewed vigor, collapsing Woodbury's offense and converting fast-break opportunities. They closed out the half with a 42-34 lead - the same deficit Woodbury faced in the Section 4AAAA championship game against Roseville.

Just like in that game, Woodbury was forced to claw its way back into the game, which it did.

After sending senior standout Rickey Suggs to the bench with his fourth foul at the 12:15 mark, Woodbury worked to overcome a 10 point deficit. Woodbury reclaimed the lead with just over five minutes left to play when Renard Suggs scored two while driving the lane, was fouled and sank his free throw.

Up 59-56 at that point, Woodbury stayed on the attack, eventually seeing its lead blossom to four after a Renard Suggs dunk with 1:58 left on the clock.

A Hopkins three-pointer by Jacob Wright brought the home team to within one at 65-64.

Then began the team's biggest fits at the free throw line.

Rickey and Renard Suggs both missed free throws as regulation closed in on its final minute.

"I don't know why," Swansson said of Woodbury's free-throw difficulties, noting that the team shot 56 percent from the stripe all season. "(It's) got to be a head thing or whatever."

Chambers drained his game-tying free throw with 46 seconds left on the clock. Neither team was able to capitalize on its final two possessions, including a Renard Suggs jump shot with 35 seconds left.

Swansson said he would prefer to have been holding the lead in the closing seconds and forcing Hopkins to take the last shot - much as his Royals did against Roseville in section play.

"The less amount of minutes you have to play Hopkins, the better," he said.

Hopkins came into overtime on fire - burying open shots and free throws.

Both Suggs brothers had fouled out of the game within 1:06 of overtime, with Hopkins up 70-65.

"That hurts," Swansson said. "We are deep, but those guys are very athletic and they do a lot of good things for us."

Without the Suggs brothers, Woodbury struggled to break Hopkins' press, gave up steals and committed seven fouls.

Hopkins made Woodbury pay at the line: Chambers made 10 free throws in overtime.

With 1:19 to go, Hopkins held an 80-67 lead. Woodbury narrowed, but couldn't close, the gap with two three-pointers to end the game.

The loss caps a 24-5 season for Woodbury that saw a second-place finish in the Suburban East Conference and a Section 4AAAA title.

Renard Suggs led the team in scoring for the season, averaging 13.4 points per game. McKeen averaged 13.0, while Renard Suggs finished with 12.75.

Rickey Suggs was Woodbury's leader in rebounding, with an 8.5 per-game average. Renard Suggs led the team in assists.

The team graduates 10 seniors, including Rickey Suggs, McKeen, Fritze, Ben Rexroth, Tyler Graves and Diallo Powell.

"We've had a great group of seniors," Swansson said. "Too bad for people who don't get to coach and be around great young men like this."

Starters Renard Suggs and Robert Claypool look to be joined next season by fellow juniors Mario Franco and Vomcemt Loeger, sophomore Matthew Ambriz and others.

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Mike Longaecker
Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker
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