Out of touch: Packers struggle with their shot in quarterfinal loss to Tigers

Published 4:31 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Packers were a few big shots away from an upset, but they couldn’t find their outside touch in a loss to No. 2 seeded Princeton by a score of 73-63 in the Minnesota class AAA Boys State Basketball Tournament quarterfinals in Williams Arena Tuesday.

The Packers, who forced 23 turnovers, went just two-for-23 on threes in the loss as they struggled from the outside all day long.

Austin got as close as 53-50 after Manny Guy hit three free throws with 9:19 left, but it was never able to tie or take the lead in the second half. Austin had started this season 9-10 overall and head coach Kris Fadness credited his team for getting back to the state tournament for the first time since 2019.

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“I’m very proud of this team for persevering and not quitting. That showed again today,” Fadness said. “These seniors lost by two in the section final last year when Victor (Idris) was hurt and didn’t get a chance. The year before that, COVID shut down the section title game. In the last two years, the ending has been unkind. It was good to play in Williams Arena this year.”

The Packers missed two three-pointers that would’ve brought them to within three in the later minutes and Princeton’s Cooper Drews connected on a dagger baseline three when he knocked down a shot to put the Tigers up 70-61 with 2:1 left.

Drews finished with 22 points and went 6-for-11 on threes while his teammate Haydn Stay, a 6-5 center, added 23 points and 16 rebounds as Princeton’s pair of playmakers proved too much for the Packers.

Austin (17-13 overall) missed its first 13 three-point attempts of the game before Jack Lang knocked down a triple from the wing on a dish from Cham Okey that brought the Packers within 53-47 with 9:54 left in the game.

The Packers hung with Princeton (27-1 overall) for most of the first half, but things slipped away quickly for a three-minute stretch to open the second half when the Tigers forced four straight Austin turnovers to put together a 10-2 spurt that saw them go up 41-28 with 15 minutes left in the game.

“I was OK with being down five at the half, but we just had an awful start to the second half and that was the difference,” Fadness said. “I thought we continued to fight and scrap, but our three-point shooting was our demise tonight. We couldn’t make a perimeter shot, while Haydn and Cooper made big plays for them.”

Ater Manyuon finished a drive to give Austin a 10-5 lead early on, but the Tigers answered with a 9-0 charge that saw Stay score five straight points. Princeton led the rest of the game.

Manyuon finished with 17 points, Cham Okey had 14 points and seven rebounds and Victor Idris had 11 points, eight rebounds and three blocked shots.

Princeton head coach Brett Cloutier, who is in his ninth year, lost to Fadness and the Packers in the Class AAA third place game in 2019. He gave Fadness a lot of credit heading into Fadness’s retirement.

“Kris Fadness is a legend,” Cloutier said. “It’s a treasure to be able to play against his team. He gets his guys to play so dang hard and he gets the best out of his players.”

Fadness, who led Austin to seven state tournaments and over 400 wins, would rather praise his players.

“It’s very humbling, but it’s not about me,” Fadness said. “It’s about these guys. I’m sort of mad at myself for telling people I was going to quit, because all of the sudden the attention went off our guys and it went right to me. That’s just not right. That was a huge mistake, because this game is about its players. We’ve been very blessed with some great players. I’ve had great coaches, our community has been supported and our janitors have been great. Down the line, our community support has been so good and my job has been easy. I open the gym and these guys come in.”