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Defense leads the way: Packers move on in Class AAA state with win over Monticello

MINNEAPOLIS — The Packers struggled to find their shooting mark, but it didn’t matter as their defensive pressure set the tone in a 68-52 win over Monticello in the Minnesota State Class AAA Boys Basketball Tournament quarterfinals in Williams Arena Wednesday.

Austin’s Pierre Lilly with the drive in the second half Wednesday during the Minnesota Class AAA Boys Basketball State Tournament quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Austin (24-5 overall) struggled from the three-point line for long stretches, but it forced 31 Magic turnovers to ignite its transition game. Austin led by as many as 21 in the second half.

Pierre Lilly had a breakout performance in the win for the Packers as he scored seven of his career-high nine points in the first frame to give Austin a much needed boost. He knocked down a big three to put Austin up 32-21 with 1:02 left in the first half.

“I was just hitting my shots in warm ups and I was feeling good,” said Lilly, who added three rebounds and two assists. “My teammates were finding me in good spots to shoot. You’ve got to be really patient on this team, but if you’re hitting, they’ll get you the ball.

Austin’s Gavin Owens draws the foul off the drive against Monticello’s Calvin Schmitz in the second half Wednesday during the Minnesota Class AAA Boys Basketball State Tournament quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

The Packers opened the second half on a 7-0 run as Ngor Deng hit a three-pointer and Medi Obang and Gavin Owens each converted lay-ups.

Owens finished with 12 points and helped Austin seal the win by making six straight free throws down the stretch.

“A lot of it was hustle and my teammates are so good at shooting where they attract a lot of attention,” Owens said. “They did a good job of finding me and dishing it off.”

The Packers came out cold as they missed nine of their first 10 shots from behind the arc. Moses Idris gave Austin a boost when he knocked down two straight threes to put the Packers up 15-11 and Agwa Nywesh hit another three to make it 18-11 with 6:50 left in the first half.

Austin’s Agwa Nywesh drives against Monticello in the second half Wednesday during the Minnesota Class AAA Boys Basketball State Tournament quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

“Pierre and Moses were catalysts for us in that first half,” Austin head coach Kris Fadness said. “It’s nice when you have players that you can put in the game and they make plays.”

The Magic (14-16 overall) held a brief 3-2 lead early on, but that was the only time they held an advantage.

Austin will play Waseca (29-1 overall) in the semifinals at Target Center at 2 p.m. on Thursday.

“We’ve got to be stronger with the basketball, we’ve got to get back on defense much better and we’re going to have to shoot it better,” Fadness said. “If we don’t do those things, Waseca is going to hammer us.”

Austin’s Medi Obang goes up strong against Monticello in the first half Wednesday during the Minnesota Class AAA Boys Basketball State Tournament quarterfinals at Williams Arena. Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Although this is the first state tournament experience for much of Austin’s roster, Owens said the team is not getting distracted by the bright lights.

“We’re here to play basketball and not for all of the extra stuff,” Owens said. “We’re going to have to get some rest tonight and be ready tomorrow.”

Monticello  24  28  –  52

Austin   32  36  –  68

Austin scoring: Medi Obang, 16; Gavin Owens, 12; Pierre Lilly, 9; Moses Idris, 6; Agwa Nywesh, 6; Teyghan Hovland, 6; Ngor Deng, 5; Dongrin Deng, 4; LaHenry Gills, 4; field goals: 43 percent (24-for-56); three-pointers: 35 percent (8-for-23); free throws: 80 percent (12-for-15); rebounds: 28 (Nywesh, 5); turnovers: 17

Monticello scoring: Austin Wetter, 13; Austin Puppe, 11; Blake Thompson, 10; Carson Swatzke, 7; Shawn Sellner, 6; Ty Ulven, 3; DJ Ward, 2; free throws: 73 percent (8-for-11); rebounds: 34 (Wetter, 9); turnovers: 31