Boys basketball: Wessels lifts Austin over John Marshall
Austin didn't have much more to prove.
The Big Nine Conference boys basketball championship was already theirs, and it had already beaten the second-best team in the league — John Marshall — once already.
Still, the unbeaten Packers (24-0) went ahead and found one more thing to accomplish.
"We wanted to beat the second-best team in the Big Nine on their home floor," Austin senior forward Tom Aase said.
Consider it done, and resoundingly. The Packers rolled to a 66-47 win in a packed JM gymnasium.
So now what for the No. 2-ranked team in state Class AAA?
Well, it wants to just keep doing what it's been doing, winning. The Packers hope to keep this up all the way to a state championship.
They certainly had the look Saturday night of a team that could pull that off.
Austin, which has ridden its defense all season — punctuated by a 1-2-2 half-court alignment that is long, active and athletic, and routinely turns turnovers into points — confounded JM all night.
"JM and us are similar teams in that we both thrive off our defense," Austin coach Kris Fadness said. "Tonight, we did a better job of turning turnovers into points than they did."
That was especially true in a first half that saw the Rockets lose the ball 15 times (24 for the game). The Packers also held JM to miserable shooting in both halves, the Rockets finishing at 27 percent from field.
All of it led to the game being virtually over by halftime, Austin on top 39-22.
"Too many turnovers and poor shooting, those were our problems," JM coach Kirk Thompson said. "Plus, Austin is a heck of a ball club."
They are a heck of a club led by a point guard, Zach Wessels, who scored a team-high 18 points, going over 1,000 for his career. Just a junior, Wessels also had eight assists.
Austin also has two more standouts in cousins Joe Aase (6-foot-8) and Tom Aase (6-5). Tom totaled 14 points, while Aaron Grad held Joe to an atypical four.
But there are plenty more Austin weapons besides that "big three." Saturday night there was guard Bret Lukes with 13 points, reserve guard Ajuda Nywesh with nine, and reserve sophomore forward Gach Gach hitting a dagger 3-pointer just before the halftime buzzer. That knocked out momentum JM had created just before.
JM was led by guard John Mattison with 19 points. Center Ngor Barnaba had nine.
JM slipped to 13-4 in the Big Nine and 18-6 overall. The Rockets have one regular-season game left, at Albert Lea on Friday.
Austin is 17-0 in the Big Nine and finishes its regular season Friday at Owatonna.
Austin 66, John Marshall 47
Collin Weisert 4, Ajuda Nywesh 9, Bret Lukes 13, Zach Wessels 18, Joe Aase 4, Tom Aase 14, Noah Brehmer 1, Gach Gach 3.
Other stats:Wessels 8 assists.
JOHN MARSHALL (47)
Aaron Grad 3, Kyle Gossman 2, Emerson Gonyea 3, John Mattison 19, Deonte Moore 4, Kyle Dahlstrom 5, Michael Hurt 0, Josh Milligan 2, Ngor Barnaba 9.
Other stats:Grad 7 rebounds, Hurt 6 rebounds, team 24 turnovers, 2-14 3-point shooting.
Halftime:AUST 39, JM 22.
Free throws:AUST 15-23, JM 23-36.
Three-point goals:AUST 5 (Nywesh 1, Lukes 1, Wessert 1, T. Aase 1, Gach 1), JM 2 (Gonyea 1, Mattison 1).