Governors veto Austin Packers in state tourney opener

The last four years the Johnson Governors have been entrants in the Minnesota State Class AAA Boys' Basketball tournament.

This year, however, was somewhat different. In 2009 and 2010, the Governors were seeded number one in their class -- and so had a target on their collective backs.

This season, with a record of 20-8, Johnson came into the tournament unheralded.

But without the burden or benefit of advance press, the Governors cruised through Section 4AAA by downing South St. Paul 100-34, Central 80-68 and in the section final against St. Thomas, Johnson posted a decisive 82-62 final to gain their fourth straight trip -- seventh counting years off -- to the classic since 2004.

'No pressure'

"Nobody expected we'd be here. There really wasn't any pressure on us at all." said Johnson head coach Vern Simmons. "I mean it," he insisted with a smile. "These kids might as well be playing against each other in a back alley somewhere. They know each other and they are all good friends. They play together all the time. They know where each is on the court and they work well together."

Asked if he was at all concerned when Austin went on a 14-3 run with 3:35 remaining in the contest, Coach Simmons shook his head. "No, these kids know each other and knew what they had to do."

From the Austin point of view - it was their first State Tourney visit since 1982 - head coach Kris Fadness stated, "We were down nine or 10 or more a couple of times in the second half but our kids battled back. That's been the story with us all year. Our kids never quit."

Fadness lauded his team's effort against the East Side "veterans." "Johnson is a veteran team. To play that well against them bodes well for our future. Johnson is an extremely athletic team. Give their kids credit. But we're young. A game like this is a good learning experience. We'll be back."

The 71-66 loss by the Packers - who were seeded fourth in the tournament - ended their season at 23-6.

The game was a high-powered, fast-paced contest with plenty of physical contact on both ends of the court.

Changing leads

The Governors got off to an early 7-2 lead and they seemed reluctant to let it go. But they couldn't pull away from the well-tuned and excellent outside shooting of the Packers.

The Austin partisans erupted when with 1:08 remaining in the first half the Packers took their first lead of the game a 36-35 and then held on to take a 37-35 leeway into the intermission.

As the second half got underway the intensity - if it could be possible - increased. Johnson kept the pressure up with a steady influx of rested corpsmen and never seemed to tire of exerting pressure.

The Governors knotted the game at 37-37. Austin came back and moved to a 42-40 margin. It was tied at 42 and again at 44 before Johnson surged to a 22-5 run that moved them to a 62-50 margin in eight minutes of play.

The fast and furious action had the stands erupting on first one side and then the other of the storied Williams Arena.

With 3:35 to go the Packers fought their way back with a 14-3 run that brought them to within striking distance at 66-68 with nine seconds remaining.

But Johnson calmly nailed 3-of-4 free throws to close out the Packers by six at 71-66.

Leading point producer in the contest was Austin's 6-8 junior center Tom Aase with a game-high 25 points.

Heading up the Johnson attack was Marcus Marshall who dropped 23 points through the opposition's hoop. Also in double figures for the Governors were Quashingm Smith-Pugh 12, Jalen Mobley 11 and Bajuan Adams 11. They were followed by Darius Watson 6, De'Vonta Durr 4, Shelby Ashford 2 and Robert Chattard 2.

The win pushed Johnson into semifinal action where they will meet Class AAA number one seed Minneapolis Washburn - a 52-49 winner over Rocori - March 22, in a game scheduled for a noon start at the Target Center.